LSU’s hitters picked on Grambling last Tuesday night to hopefully again feel good about themselves at the plate.
LSU cruised to a 13-2 victory against Grambling following a stretch in which it lost five of seven games. The culprit in most of those defeats was an unproductive offense.
Now, the Tigers hope things carry over this weekend in their series against Arkansas in Fayetteville. The first game of the series against the Razorbacks, who are tied with Auburn and Kentucky for Southeastern Conference lead takes place at Baum Stadium on Friday (6:30 p.m. Central/SEC Digital Network).
“It sounds like a cliché, but we just have to take it one pitch at a time,” senior shortstop Kramer Robertson said. “We are at LSU for a reason. We have good players in our dugout. We must trust in our ability. Baseball is a game at failure. You have to stay confident. We must have unwavering confidence.”
A heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M last Saturday left LSU with a 5-4 conference record. The Tigers are two games behind Arkansas and Auburn in the Western Division. Many LSU baseball supporters are concerned about their team’s current SEC won-loss mark.
But, the Tigers have won no more than five SEC games in the first three weekends for the last three years. LSU was 3-5-1 in 2014, 5-4 in 2015 and 4-5 in 2016. The Tigers have won no fewer than 14 games the last seven weekends during the past three seasons. LSU has ended up a national seed from 2014-16.
“That’s baseball,” said senior starting pitcher Jared Poche, referring to the Aggies’ 4-3 comeback victory in last weekend’s series finale. “Maybe things are catching up with us right now. We have had a lot of walk-off wins.
“I still have all the confidence in the world in this team. I still think we are the best team in the country. We just have to take it one game at a time.”
Hunter Newman is another veteran of the LSU program. A fifth-year senior, Newman was a true freshman in 2013 when the Tigers got off to an 8-1 SEC start. Newman stressed that maintaining a positive outlook is needed for LSU to shake the mini-slump.
“As a team, we have to keep being upbeat mentally,” Newman said. “Every SEC game is a tough grind. You must stay mentally focused. Then, we must get base hits and get guys out.”
Newman, who missed the first two weekends of the SEC schedule due to a back problem, said that everything is going fine right now.
“The back is feeling good,” Newman said. “I’m about 100 percent now. The bullpen is looking good. The Grambling game was good for us since all the guys were able to throw. Game experience is huge. Facing live hitters in a game is a big difference from a bullpen session. Most guys looked sharp Tuesday.”
LSU’s late-season turnaround in 2016 began during the series against Arkansas. In the middle game, a possum appeared on the field late in the game with the Tigers facing a huge deficit. LSU rallied for a 10-9 victory in ten innings. The Tigers swept the Hogs and went on an 11-game winning streak.
LSU has enjoyed tremendous success against the Razorbacks. Since Paul Mainieri became coach in 2007, the Tigers have lost only one series to Arkansas. LSU was swept by the Hogs in 2011.
“This is a great rivalry,” Mainieri said. “This year will be no different than any other year when we play Arkansas. It’s like an intrasquad game. The players play the same. The pitchers pitch the same. The coaches coach the same.”
The Razorbacks are using a different offensive style of play. Coach Dave Van Horn’s squad is relying more on power than speed.
“In the past, Arkansas has stolen bases and done a lot of hit-and-runs and squeeze bunts,” Mainieri said. “This year, they have only 14 stolen bases and about 40 home runs. They have more powerful hitters now. They haven’t had that in several years.”
Mainieri is focused on Friday’s game. He is not looking behind or ahead.
“Every game has great meaning,” Maineri said. “But, what’s done is done. You can’t worry about past series. Everybody is excited about another SEC series.”