SEC baseball is alive and well in Hoover, Alabama this holiday weekend, but the same may not be the case for LSU if history repeats itself.
Friday's 4:00 PM affair with sixth-seeded Mississippi State looms on the horizon for the top-seeded Tigers, who will need to proceed cautiously if they are to make it out alive and advance to Saturday's semifinal round.
When a huge underdog beats up on a favorite, it always makes for a good story.
But if it happens twice in two days, it becomes legendary. Mississippi State's thrilling 3-2 win over LSU remains fresh because it occurred Wednesday. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the exuberance lasted less than 24 hours, when No. 12 Kentucky tamed them with a 5-1 beat down in Thursday's third round.
It's single elimination from here on out, so both teams are well aware of the consequences of losing on Friday.
But Mississippi State already knows how to take down LSU. Here are the three keys to doing it again.
1. Jump on LSU Pitching Early
LSU may have planned to utilize a lot of pitchers in Wednesday's loss, but it bordered on ridiculous.
While the Bulldogs got six excellent innings and eight strikeouts from starter Chris Stratton (11-1), the Tigers shuffled through seven pitchers in all. None lasted more than two and two-thirds innings, and that may be too long for Mississippi State to capture magic in a bottle twice.
The best-case scenario would be to knock the ball around enough to force LSU to turn to a bullpen that was also used in Thursday's 11-2 elimination win over Ole Miss. The faster that happens, the quicker the Tigers will become weary.
2. The Bulldogs Need Some More Timely Hitting
Both Adam Frazier and Brent Brownlee got things started early for Mississippi State on Wednesday, with third-inning RBI singles that gave the Bulldogs a quick 2-0 lead over LSU.
But Demarcus Henderson will be the guy with a target on his back when he steps up to the plate on Friday. Henderson's bat wrote the perfect ending to the Bulldogs' stunning win, when he smashed a sixth-inning single that drove in Mitch Slauter for the deciding run.
3. Mississippi State Must Refocus and Put the Kentucky Loss Behind Them.
In post-game notes provided by secdigitalnetwork.com, Mississippi State head coach John Cohen worried about the fatigue factor in a grueling tournament like the SEC's. But if the Bulldogs want to be the best, they have to beat the best again.
"There aren’t a lot of teams in our league that have done that this year," said Cohen. "I’m really proud of the effort we’ve been getting. Mentally, we were a little bit tired and not as locked in as I wanted us to be today. Our mission right now is to put that in the rear view mirror and move forward and get ready to play a very good LSU team.”
Only time will tell if the Bulldogs can outsmart the Tigers twice over.
In the meantime, Friday's SEC Tournament schedule features a second elimination game. Immediately after LSU and Mississippi State square off at 3:00 PM, South Carolina will battle Florida. Kentucky and Vanderbilt await the winners on Saturday in the tournament semifinals.
For a complete look at the SEC Tournament grid, check out TigerDroppings.com. It includes TV listings and results from the event's first couple of days.
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