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LSU Baseball Happy to Be Home For Key Stretch Run of SEC Season

Tigers have more time to work on themselves with bonus of being home for next few weeks

It's almost a relief for LSU to be back in Baton Rouge for the next handful of weeks. The Tigers have spent most of the last two weeks on the road at difficult locations like Starkville and Fayetteville.  

But after getting out of the back-to-back road series at .500, this is the time of the season for LSU to make its run up the standings. When Jay Johnson was looking at the schedule, the next two home series against Missouri and Georgia were ones he couldn't help but value as a key stretch of the Tigers' season. 

Thus far in SEC play, the environment has done little to sway the results on the field as the purple and gold have lost both home series against Texas A&M and Auburn. Being back at Alex Box should provide an added layer of comfortability and support from the Tigers' faithful but there have been noticeable struggles at home. 

It's why Johnson is just glad to have that extra time on the field now that the team isn't traveling, allowing LSU to get some more work done in the process. 

"I think you can get more done with players within their routine and work on things," Johnson said. "Kind of itemize the things that individual players need to do to put ourselves in a good chance to be successful. I thought we handled things well, obviously you ramp up in competition but the things we need to do, if we can commit to them, we could play good baseball and that will lead to us winning.

"It is a relief to be back home, traveling for two weeks, it takes a toll on your body and can be very exhausting," pitcher Ma'Khail Hilliard said. "I also thought of it as an opportunity to get better as a team. We already know we're good but we're not there yet so a lot of these new, younger guys you gotta be ready for the next opportunity."

Where LSU's issues have lied this season have been consistency, something that Johnson has attributed to needing to grow as a unit. The players are working hard and competing as best they can but it's the execution side of the game that has plagued this group at the plate, on the mound and in the field. 

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As for some of the recent hitting woes, particularly in two strike counts and with runners on base, the Tigers showed a lot of improvement in one game against ULL. Approach, competitiveness and following the clear cut rules laid out to the players is what allowed LSU to have success against the Rajun Cajuns but stringing it together against SEC competition is another prudent step.

On Monday, Johnson described putting those scenarios in the team's face from a video perspective to see how they would respond and they certainly answered the bell with just three strikeouts in the game and batting .429 with runners in scoring position.

"How much better we can be than we have been and they responded in good fashion," Johnson said. "If they do that we'll create more run scoring opportunities and in a couple of games we've lost, that's all we've really needed. We're much better in close games than last year and we need to continue that because that will define our season."

On the mound, it's been Hilliard who has kept the Tigers in position to win a number of SEC series openers the last month. His experience and consistency has been one of the bright spots of this pitching staff that is trying to piece together the staff as best as possible.

Hilliard is throwing the ball with great confidence, finding the right mix with his offspeed pitches and locating the pitches in successful spots, leading to a 3-0 record and respectable 3.83 ERA.

"I believe I've done exceptionally well. This year I felt like I came out ready, mentally locked in and been trying to build off that," Hilliard said. "I have a lot more drive, more experience under my belt and I can correct myself in the moment."

LSU will need that balance of solid starting pitching and two out hitting to get back on track in league play. The team is still bundled with a bunch of teams in the SEC West hovering around the .500 mark and with two straight weeks at home, the Tigers have a chance to capitalize in familiar surroundings. 

(Photo courtesy of LSUsports)