- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009

BATON ROUGE, LA. (AP) - A double-digit winning streak and a trip to the College World Series are nothing new for LSU.

Yet experience tells the Tigers (51-16) _ whose 10-straight victories have given them the most wins in the nation _ that what may look like unstoppable momentum gets tougher to maintain as a team advances deeper in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s always good to have a winning streak but that could end Saturday,” said LSU slugger Blake Dean, referring to LSU’s CWS opener against Virginia. “It’s not all that important. Obviously, you know that you’re playing well, you’re rolling and you’ve got the momentum, but I don’t think it’s too big of a factor.”

As LSU left for Omaha on Thursday, some players weren’t ready to assert that the Tigers’ recent postseason surge was the sign of a team peaking at the right time.

The Tigers’ pitching has been impressive, led by starters Louis Coleman (13-2, 2.76 ERA, 124 strikeouts) and Anthony Ranaudo (10-3, 2.95, 147). Their hitting has come and gone, however, forcing LSU to pull out some nail-biters recently as they seek the program’s sixth national title and first since 2000.

“I don’t think we’ve peaked yet at all,” said Ryan Schimpf, who’s batted .335 with 19 home runs and 63 RBIs while taking turns playing left field and first base.

In the middle of the 2008 season, LSU was no lock to make the NCAA tournament. Then came a 20-game winning streak spanning the remainder of the regular season and the Southeastern Conference tournament. The streak increased to 23 as LSU swept the regional round. But California-Irvine halted the streak with an 11-5 victory in the opener of the super regional. Although LSU rallied for two straight wins to advance to Omaha, the Tigers lasted only three more games before their elimination, leaving them 3-3 in their final six contests.

“Last year we might have peaked too early,” Schimpf said. “But we still have our best baseball yet to come. We can hit a lot better. Pitching has really kept us in a ton of games and that’s been the key for us. If we can go to Omaha and get them some more run support, that will be terrific.”

LSU’s last loss came on May 20 in the opener of the SEC tournament, when the Tigers managed only six hits against Vanderbilt and fell 4-1. LSU then won five straight to win the conference tournament and won their first five games of the NCAA tournament, eliminating Rice in the minimum two games of last weekend’s super regional.

When the Tigers hit well, they look unbeatable. Some of their more impressive results included a 16-0 demolition of Georgia in the SEC tournament and a 10-3 win over Minnesota to close out the regional round.

Yet, in their NCAA opener, the Tigers trailed underdog Southern 2-1 until, with two outs in the seventh, they exploded for seven runs in a 10-2 win. Later in the regional, the Tigers needed 10 innings to beat Baylor 3-2, with Ranaudo (Saturday’s CWS starter against Virginia) striking out 14 in nine innings to give LSU a chance to pull it out.

LSU head coach Paul Mainieri says his club should be proud of its streak, but suspects a bigger factor in Omaha will be experience. LSU and North Carolina are the only teams returning to the eight-team CWS for a second straight season.

Mainieri has coached two teams _ Notre Dame in 2002 and LSU last year _ that were full of CWS rookies, and asserted, “Nothing you can do can totally prepare them for it. I’m convinced of it.”

“You walk into that stadium and your eyes get as big as softballs, your jaw drops … there’s 25,000 people and you know it’s on national television,” Mainieri continued. “I felt both years that it took about a game-and-a-half to really get your feet on the ground.”

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