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Answering the Call

By Trey Mongrue
@TreyMongrue

Paul Mainieri did not mince words in the immediate aftermath of LSU’s 5-3 extra-inning loss to Ole Miss on Saturday.

“If we want to be considered among the best hitting teams,” the Tigers’ coach said, “then we have to bring it.”

A simple quote to the media after a harsh 14-inning loss, but a challenged issued to his highly ranked ballclub.

The Tigers outhit the Rebels on Saturday night, however, those hits did not fall when the situation most called for it. Of the team’s 12 hits, only two came during the 12 at bats when runners where in scoring position. After scoring its three runs in the fourth inning via a Jared Foster double and a Kade Scivicque single, LSU would be shutout by Ole Miss pitching for the ensuing 10 innings.

To make matters worse, the inability to push runners across the plate completely wasted a 13-strikeout performance from freshman pitcher Alex Lange.

But less than 24-hours later, the Tigers flushed their performance from the night before and answered Mainieri’s call, hammering out 19 hits – 10 of those with runners in scoring position – to take the rubber game against the Rebels with an emphatic 18-6 win.

“I challenged the kids,” explained Mainieri. “It was our opportunity to show what we were made of. We have a lot of pride and a lot of veteran leadership and I knew that we would come out and play [on Sunday].”

A big part of Sunday’s offensive explosion was three hits and two runs batted in apiece from Alex Bregman, Conner Hale and Scivicque. In fact, of the 13 LSU hitters that registered plate appearances on Sunday, all but one (Bryce Jordan, who pinch hit for Mark Laird in the 8th inning) drove in runs.

“It was just a more competitive approach at the plate,” said Bregman, who now leads the Tigers with 5 home runs this season after hitting two against Ole Miss.

“We were just more aggressive, stayed within ourselves, and tried to just square the ball up. When we do that, we’re a good offense that takes the fight to the pitcher.”

Now with the first weekend of Southeastern Conference play out of the way, LSU’s two losses at this mark matches the 2013 Tigers for the best start to a season under Mainieri.

And make no mistake, this torrid start has as much to do with the offense as it does with the effort LSU is getting from it’s pitching staff – if not more so.

Whether it was the ineffectiveness at the plate on Saturday or the inflated numbers on Sunday, both outings could be labeled as anomaly for the LSU bats. However, the offensive norm for this team is closer to the latter.

Through 20 games this season, the Tigers lead the SEC with a team batting average of .323 and a .482 slugging percentage. A lot of that has to do with the aforementioned Bregman, Hale and Scivicque, but then there is Andrew Stevenson, Mark Laird, Jared Foster and Chris Chinea.

All are everyday players and all are hitting over .300.

“We have a lot of confidence at the plate,” said Hale who led LSU with nine hits and four RBI this past weekend against Ole Miss. “It’s contagious. After one person gets a hit, it’s not like it’s over after that, we just seem to keep going with more hits.”

The scary thing, though, is that Bregman believes that the Tigers’ plate approach is still a work and progress. They will continue to take those steps to where they want to be this weekend at Arkansas in LSU’s first SEC road series of the season.

“We’re not there at all yet,” the junior shortstop said of his expectations for the team. “But we’re working in the right direction. We want to be a consistent offense for nine innings. Knowing that we can explode like we did [on Sunday], I was very happy with that.”

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