What LSU baseball needs to do to reach NCAA postseason after taking Alabama series
BATON ROUGE — It is getting hotter outside, and so is the LSU baseball team.
The Tigers, who started the SEC at 1-8, won the fifth of their last seven SEC games on Sunday, 13-5 over Alabama to win their first league series at home this season just when they absolutely needed it in front of 6,791 at Alex Box Stadium.
LSU won its third SEC series out of four and has won seven of nine games overall. It hosts Northwestern State (26-24) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The Tigers (32-19, 11-16 SEC) moved from 11th in the league to a tie for 10th with Kentucky and have that tiebreaker, having taken two at Kentucky in April. The SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama, on May 25-30 takes the top 12 teams.
LSU, which entered the weekend with the best RPI in the nation — 20th — among teams with losing conference records, can get within two games of .500 with a three-game sweep at Texas A&M in their final SEC series of the regular season, beginning Thursday (ESPNU, 6 p.m.).
The Aggies (28-25, 8-19) have lost seven of their past 10 SEC games.
A 14-16 finish could greatly enhance LSU's NCAA postseason chances, which were weak just a few weeks ago. Since 1999, SEC teams that finish 14-16 have received an NCAA bid 61% of the time. SEC teams that have finished 13-17 reach the NCAA postseason 36% of the time. SEC teams that finish 12-18 have gone only 13% of the time.
LSU would still be in good shape for an NCAA bid with two wins at A&M for a 13-17 finish, considering the Tigers' lofty RPI and No. 1 strength of schedule in the nation. But either way, they probably would need a win or two in Hoover to be safe.
Alabama (29-19, 12-14) represented two more nice RPI wins, as the Tide came in at No. 29 after LSU beat No. 23 RPI Louisiana Tech last week.
"I feel like our team's playing its best baseball of the year," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
LSU looked like a new team on Sunday, pounding out 16 hits, including four home runs. Giovannie DiGiacomo came in with zero homers and hit two, including a three-run blast in the third for an 8-2 lead. Cade Doughty hit his 11th home run. Drew Bianco hit his fifth.
Ma'Khail Hilliard (5-0) has taken the No. 3 starter slot that was opened with the season-ending elbow injury to Jaden Hill last month. He struck out seven and allowed four hits through five innings for the win. The bullpen, which had blown numerous games, allowed just two runs through four innings. LSU made no errors for the second straight game.
"I thought it was one of our best all-around efforts of the year," Mainieri said.
And that was after a thrilling 2-1 win Friday in front of 6,946 as closer Devin Fontenot held the Tide to one run in three innings for his fourth save. Only a 6-5 Alabama win Saturday kept LSU from a sweep. LSU scored in six of eight innings and had seven extra-base hits.
"We really didn't take innings off," said Mainieri, who watched his offense practically take whole weekends off early in the season.
"We're still in the hunt for things," Mainieri said. "We'll be a team to be reckoned with."