Scott Rabalais: Ole Miss series revealed LSU’s baseball team has a long way to go | LSU

When LSU baseball dips to a new low, it’s a shock to the system.

The program that has won more College World Series than all but one other school – with so many All-Americans, so many major-leaguers, so many wins – to see the Tigers swept in a three-game series at home by Ole Miss for the first time ever was stunning.

Perhaps LSU’s play of recent weeks – winning four of its five Southeastern Conference series coming into last weekend – gave us all a false sense about this team. The Tigers looked like they were playing their way into being one of the top 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament, thus hosting a regional, with maybe even an outside shot at being a top-eight seed.

But that all came crashing down with scores of 5-3, 11-1 and 8-5, losses at Alex Box Stadium against an Ole Miss team that was lost in its own wilderness until a couple of weeks ago, going 11-18 after a 13-1 start.

Perhaps the Rebels are closer to being the team that started the season so strongly and was ranked No. 1 in late March than anyone gave them credit for before they bullied LSU at The Box. A place where the Tigers were a tough 25-6 before this three-game tumble (LSU finished 26-9 at home after Tuesday’s 19-7 rout of Northwestern State).

Three games with a suddenly reignited Ole Miss team illuminated so many of LSU’s weaknesses. The lack of starting pitching. Crucial fielding errors. An offense that on paper has been one of the SEC’s best – LSU went into the Ole Miss series second in the conference with a .294 average – but often has gone into the tank against quality pitching.

Compounding LSU’s issues are key injuries. Jacob Berry, having an All-American season, missed the entire series because of the finger he fractured the weekend before in Friday’s pregame warmups at Alabama. LSU’s best catcher, Alex Milazzo, played in only 11 games because of a knee injury before finally seeing action against the Demons (Berry got an at bat, too, drawing a four-pitch walk).

There aren’t a lot of options for first-year coach Jay Johnson to try. With Berry out, he started Collier Cranford, now hitting .136, at third base. Asked whether he thought about pinch-hitting for Cranford in the sixth inning Sunday – even after he hit a triple off the glove of Ole Miss left fielder Kevin Graham in the fifth – Johnson said this:

The problem is when you’ve got 13 guys on the bench (LSU carried an extra pitcher this weekend on its 27-man roster), you’re pinch-hitting .180 for .150. The options were incredibly limited. ”

“Limited” is a good word to describe this LSU baseball team. Frankly, it isn’t a team that has shown it is worthy to host an NCAA regional. Just as frankly I think Johnson, who has come under criticism from fans who expect the Tigers to always dominate like they did in the 1990s no matter what, is getting about all he can out of this team.

LSU baseball coach Jay Johnson will not cancel a midweek game, even if it means a dip in the RPI standings.

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Johnson was asked Monday whether he considered canceling LSU’s game Tuesday night with lowly ranked Northwestern State, the way Texas A&M and Ole Miss have done with midweek games against similar opponents to protect their precious RPIs. No, Johnson said, his team needed to play, knowing that an upset loss to the Demons in a game he did not schedule would be a potentially staggering blow to LSU’s postseason hopes. It was the right thing to do for a lot of reasons, among them you have to show you’re not afraid of competition no matter what the potential consequences. Especially if you’re LSU and you’re supposed to be all that.

“I do not think coach (Skip) Bertman built this program by runnning away from games,” Johnson said after Tuesday’s game. He’s 100% correct on that.

Johnson wants to win, wants to get LSU back to Omaha desperately. But he’s more interested in the macro view of a program he’s trying to build back into being a consistent national contender, something the Tigers have struggled to be since reaching the College World Series championship series in 2017.

“I know where I’m at,” Johnson said Sunday. “I’m going to do the best coaching job I possibly can this week. We’re essentially in four playoff games. We’re going to have to take care of business. We have to go to Hoover (and the SEC tournament) and play well.

“It’s more than where we’re headed or if we’re headed anywhere,” said Johnson, talking about the NCAA tournament. “There’s a standard of play and concentration and attitude that’s really important. Frankly, maybe it’s a little bit different coming from me. We want to make sure we establish those things. ”

While LSU baseball took a significant hit over the weekend, both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are surging in this week’s projections for the NCAA t…

The future for LSU is brighter than the immediate past, starting with Berry and Milazzo seeing action Tuesday night (no word on how much they might play this weekend). Again, looking at the bigger picture, Johnson signed the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class last summer.

But like a big wall illustration in LSU’s team room shows, it’s a long road from Baton Rouge to Omaha. A road the Tigers aren’t very far along just yet.

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There is some good news on the injury front for the LSU baseball team.

LSU baseball coach Jay Johnson discusses why Tigers will play midweek game, while other programs cancel

LSU baseball coach Jay Johnson will not cancel a midweek game, even if it means a dip in the RPI standings.

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