Dig Baton Rouge

Turning point: LSU baseball picks up momentum after series win over Vanderbilt

Learning to ride a bike for the first time could be a difficult process, as you’ll be prone to falling down a couple of times as you learn to master the skill and ride without your parents’ help.

You may scrape your knees a few times, but once you can finally ride unassisted, it’s a pretty satisfying feeling, and you’ll happily ride until your heart’s content.

The LSU baseball team, a squad that features eight new every day players, fell off its proverbial bike a few times early on this season.

The Tigers opened conference play 2-4, losing its first two SEC series to Alabama and Texas A&M. LSU also suffered non-conference losses to Tulane and Lamar to leave Tiger fans wondering whether or not this season could be one of rebuilding for a team that’s been to the College World Series two out of its previous three seasons.

LSU lost to Tulane at home for the first time since 2007, and their series loss to the Crimson Tide was the first in Baton Rouge since 1996. LSU was struggling to get timely hits, and pitchers Alex Lange and Jared Poche’, who were expected to carry a young team through it’s growing pains, weren’t quite living up to the lofty expectations they garnered over the offseason.

But they’ve bounced back. The Tigers find themselves just two games out of first place in the SEC west after winning consecutive series against Auburn and No. 2 Vanderbilt.

LSU got back on its bike against Auburn and even popped a couple of wheelies against Vanderbilt as the Tigers nearly swept the Commodores for the first time since 1997.

The Tigers scored just eight runs in the entire series in College Station, where the Aggies took two out of three games. LSU matched that mark in the first game alone against Auburn the following series.

After 15 combined runs against Alabama and Texas A&M, the bats came alive for LSU in the Plains as the Tigers took two out of three from Auburn and scored 23 runs throughout the series.

LSU blanked Southern 11-1 in a tune-up game before a critical series at Alex Box against No. 2 Vanderbilt. When the Commodores arrived in Baton Rouge, they were second in the SEC in earned run average and first in runs scored.

The Tigers looked to ride their momentum from the Auburn series, and while they didn’t get the sweep, they got a critical 2-1 series victory against the second-ranked team in the country and some confidence going forward after a slow start.

For a young team that confidence could be big. This team is still trying to establish an identity, but took a step forward in that regard during a critical win at home against a good Vanderbilt team.

Very few expected the outcome in game one against the Commodores, a 13-4 thrashing in favor of LSU that wasn’t even as close as the score indicates. LSU carried a shutout into the ninth inning before Vandy finally got on the scoreboard.

Vanderbilt starting pitcher Jordan Sheffield had given up 11 total runs on the season going into the Commodores’ series against LSU. The Tigers hung seven on him in the third inning of game one.

Discounting the 15 runs LSU scored against Fordham in March, the Tigers got their best offensive performance of the season so far, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

This team was continuously leaving men stranded and failing to cash in on opportunities early in the season, but that all went out the window in game one against Vanderbilt. It was a critical series within the conference, and the Tigers set the tone in game one with an all-around brilliant offensive performance.

Against the leading run-scoring team in the conference, Poche’ looked the best he has all season in game one. The junior recorded a career-high eight strikeouts while never allowing the leadoff man to get on base and giving up just four hits in a 112-pitch outing.

Game two, a 3-2 LSU victory to clinch the series, was a different type of game completely. Alex Lange had the type of performance LSU fans were waiting to see from him as the Tigers clinched the series.

After issuing six walks and seven earned runs against Auburn, Lange gave up three hits in six and a third innings of work in another big win against Vanderbilt. Hunter Newman relieved Lang and struck out seven batters in just two and two-thirds innings, and LSU captured its first series win over the Commodores under Paul Mainieri.

Mainieiri also got his 1300th win last Friday, making him the seventh active coach to reach that mark.

Vanderbilt was No. 2 for a reason, and they deserve credit for rallying and avoiding the sweep. However, LSU was able to win a critical series, and Tiger fans should feel good about what they saw after the team’s slow start this year.

Poche’ and Lange played the way Tiger fans expected them to from the beginning of the season, arguably against the best hitting team LSU has faced all year. On the offensive side, the Tigers got well-rounded, timely hitting from a plethora of sources.

This is a young team that had its struggles early on, but here they are, right in the thick of things in the SEC race and fresh off a huge victory against the No. 2 team in the country. We saw what the Tigers are capable of doing against Vanderbilt, but can they play like that consistently?

It will be all about consistency going forward, beginning with Lange and Poche’. But if this weekend was a sign of things to come, things are picking up for this young team.

Photo courtesy of LSU Sports Information.

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