For a moment in early April, the LSU baseball team appeared infallible.
After bludgeoning the then-No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats in Alex Box Stadium by a combined three-game score of 31-6, the Tigers (43-6, 19-5 Southeastern Conference) were off to a 30-2 record – their best start in program history.
Since then, the bats have cooled and the defense has proven vulnerable, but the results have stayed consistent for coach Paul Mainieri’s bunch, which finds itself a full three-and-a-half games ahead of Arkansas for the SEC West crown.
Even after dropping their first series of the season to South Carolina on April 28 among a myriad of defensive misplays and offensive lulls, the Tigers stayed grounded as many of their goals still remained fully in reach.
“Our record is still stellar and we’re in a good position,” Mainieri said after the Sunday loss to the Gamecocks. “We can’t hang our head and pout and feel sorry for ourselves. We just have to get back to playing good baseball.”
The heart of the Tiger order has paced the offense all season as freshman Alex Bregman, seniors Raph Rhymes and Mason Katz and junior Christian Ibarra boast the highest four batting averages on the team while hitting three through six in the lineup.
Bregman, a heralded Albuquerque, N.M., product, had big shoes to fill at shortstop to replace Austin Nola, but has performed admirably with his ranging defensive plays and confident demeanor out of the three-hole in the batting order.
“If we have a one-run game or a tie game in the ninth inning, I want the ball hit to [Bregman],” Mainieri said after the April 27 loss to South Carolina. “He’s played great all year for us.”
Rhymes and Katz have carried their torrid pace from 2012 into this season with Katz leading the team in home runs and RBIs.
Last season’s SEC Player of the Year, Rhymes has struggled to match his flirtation with .500 he had last season, but has come around as of late after flip-flopping spots with Katz in the batting order and settling down in the batters box.
“I kind of felt like I was rushing things, mechanically wise at the plate,” Rhymes said in April. “I kind of simplified things, put the bat on my shoulder and was a little more relaxed.”
On the mound, sophomore righty Aaron Nola etched his name in LSU lore through a stretch where the Catholic High product threw four straight complete-game victories against Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida.
Nola’s minuscule 1.92 ERA and unblemished 9-0 record are accompanied by a 93-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .187 batting average against him.
With junior Ryan Eades trucking along at a 8-1 record, sophomore southpaw Cody Glenn has assumed the third starter role on the back end of the rotation, highlighted by his gritty performance in the series opener against Florida.
Glenn fired six-and-two-thirds innings, allowing only one earned run and fanning six as the Tigers prevailed 3-2 on an eighth inning sacrifice fly.
“I’m pitching with a lot of confidence right now, and whenever Coach [Mainieri] gives me the ball, I’m going to show him what I’ve got,” Glenn said.