After crucial win Saturday, LSU hoping it's a sample of what's to come
When Todd Peterson was fist pumping and screaming his way off the mound Saturday afternoon, only one thought was racing through the junior pitcher’s mind.
“Let’s get out of here, let’s go home,” Peterson said.
Peterson’s response was how many in the LSU baseball community were feeling as the Tigers escaped with a 3-2 win over No. 4 Arkansas to avoid being swept for the second time this season. Taking one from the Razorbacks wasn’t the plan, Peterson said, but thinks that walking out with one win in a tough environment was enough, considering how most of the weekend had gone.
“It was so big, you can’t walk in there and get swept,” Peterson said. “That’s a very good ball team and for us to get one, we can walk away with our heads up. It was not the weekend we wanted but we’ll take it.
Avoiding a series sweep to Arkansas probably saved LSU (31-21, 15-12) from dropping even more slots in the top-25 following a 1-3 week. LSU was hovering in the 15-16 range a week ago but the latest polls have the Tigers as high as 19 and as low as 22.
Coach Paul Mainieri said the rankings don’t tell the whole story as LSU is currently tied for fifth place in the SEC with Ole Miss, who was swept at home this past weekend by Mississippi State.
Mainieri, who believes he’s quite the optimist, figures if LSU has a good showing this week against UNO and Ole Miss and follows that up with a successful trip to Hoover for the SEC Championships, there’s no reason why the Tigers can’t be in firm position to host a regional come NCAA tournament time.
“I was putzing around on the computer yesterday and was looking at our RPI,” Mainieri said. “They have this thing called the Nitty Gritty where it shows your record against top-50 teams and we have 17 wins against top-50 teams which is the fifth most in the country. The only teams that more than 17 top-50 wins in the country, are the four teams ahead of us in the SEC.”
There’s reason for optimism as the team could be getting one if not two of it’s freshman arms back for the SEC tournament as Mainieri gave updates on both Cole Henry and Jaden Hill.
Hill threw what the team call a “short-box,” where he pitched on the front end of the mound and looked like a “Major Leaguer” according to Mainieri. The plan is for Hill to throw a full bullpen on Tuesday before the UNO game and see how that goes.
While he wouldn’t fully commit to Hill being back for the SEC tournament, there was optimism that the freshman isn’t too far away from making a return.
“If he’s able to pitch in the SEC tournament and I’m not sure he will be able too, he wouldn’t pitch more than a couple of innings.” Mainieri said.
Henry, who did not make the trip to Arkansas this week, went home to Alabama for the weekend to throw with his father, who was his pitching coach in high school. Mainieri said he hasn’t spoken to Henry yet but has had no setbacks to his knowledge.
The general consensus amongst the players was that Saturday’s win was one that they hope can propel them to new heights as the regular season winds down. The weekend hero, Antoine Duplantis, who slapped the game winning three-run homer over right field in the eighth inning, said to get out of the weekend with one win was “huge.”
“With UNO and Auburn coming up we have a good chance to set ourselves up nicely for postseason play,” Duplantis said. “I think there’s been a sense of urgency but we just have to find the right mindset for each individual person and bring it to each game with some level of consistency. This is the time where we’re usually getting hot and I think our best baseball is ahead of us.”
LSU will face a tough Blake Dean led UNO squad on Tuesday night with Devin Fontenot on the mound.
Fontenot didn’t pitch against Arkansas as Peterson’s five inning close out on Saturday stole the show, but will look to rebound in a starter’s role against the Privateers. It will be the first time the sophomore’s pitching since the Ole Miss finale when he allowed four runs in the top of the tenth inning to spoil a six run rally by the offense in the ninth.
Fontenot admitted that he has lost some of the competitive edge over the last month after starting the season with such promise.
“You just have to believe in yourself and have the confidence that you have the stuff to do it,” Fontenot said. “Don’t try to do too much and just let the defense work and help you out and the results will come. I just want to go out there tomorrow and get back to my normal self of getting guys out and gaining that confidence back.”