Friday, March 30, 2007

Epstein Feels Good About Shape of the Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With six weeks of evaluation time under his belt, does the general manager have any grand predictions for the 2007 Red Sox?
"Ask me in six months," quipped Theo Epstein.

However, the GM was more forthcoming on a variety of other issues surrounding his club as the season draws near.

Epstein seemed to give his team about an "A" rating for chemistry during camp.

"I think the thing I liked best about the club is there were no real egos on display," said Epstein just a few hours before the club left Fort Myers for a pair of exhibition games in Philadelphia.

"As much as any camp I've been around, this had a real team feel from Day 1 and put winning as the real top priority," continued Epstein. "Everyone got their work in and it seems like it was as cohesive a unit as you can have when there's 55 guys around. That should bode really well for the chances of us coming together as a 25-man unit quickly in April."

Epstein added that the other big positive was that, aside from Mike Timlin's strained oblique, there were no significant injuries during Spring Training.

Though Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka certainly represent an imposing front three to the rotation, Epstein isn't ready just yet to anoint it as the best starting staff he's had in his five years as general manager.

"I don't like assessing teams on paper," Epstein said. "On paper, it's got as high a ceiling as any team we've had. We got it going pretty good towards the end of 2004. Those guys made all their starts. That's an important thing.

"Often times, you look at the end of the year, the team that won the pennant is the team that had a rotation that made the most starts and stayed the healthiest, the top five guys. They can take the ball and not miss starts, that's a good sign. That's a pretty important factor for us and for all of our competitors as well."

In the past, Epstein has admitted that building a bullpen is an art he has struggled at. How does he like this year's bullpen now that Jonathan Papelbon is back in the closer's role?

News and features:

• Red Sox rally in ninth to tie Devil Rays
• Red Sox notes: Schilling happy with outing
• Schilling sharp vs. Twins in final tune-up
• Matsuzaka, Okajima host Boston scribes
• Red Sox notes: Lester to start year in Minors
• Wakefield finishes spring season in loss

• March 27 photo gallery
• Matsuzaka tosses five no-hit innings: 350K
• March 25 photo gallery
•'s Leyritz on Papelbon's move
• Matsuzaka fans seven: 350K
• Red Sox update with's Browne
Spring Training info:
• coverage | Schedule | Ballpark | Tickets

"It's always wait-and-see [approach] for every team," Epstein said. "I think we have some veteran talent in the big leagues right now. I think we have the best depth we've had in Triple-A in a long time. That's a pretty good Triple-A bullpen that we have right now, and starting rotation. Considering that we usually use at least 20 pitchers to get through the season, I think we're built better for the long haul."

On to other matters, the GM wasn't losing any sleep over the .103 batting average that captain Jason Varitek left Florida with.

"If you look back at his history, '03, '04, '05, he hit over .250 maybe once in those springs" Epstein said. "In 2003, he hit [.190] or something like that and had a pretty feeble spring from an offensive standpoint. First game of the year in Tampa Bay, it might have been his first at-bat, he took a great swing on a pitch from Joe Kennedy and lined it off the wall and get locked in right after that. His history is as a guy who doesn't hit much in Spring Training."

Then, there's rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who had an unimpressive six-week stint with the team at the end of last season and an inconsistent exhibition season. Still, Epstein is confident that Pedroia can hold down the starting job and just needs a little more time to get comfortable.

"I think, for him, the light is going to go on one day where he can just relax and be himself," Epstein said. "I think what you saw last year was a guy pressing and trying to do too much. That's pretty typical of young players and can sometimes carry over into the second year a little bit. Usually there's a moment, whether it's a big hit or a good defensive play or just a deep breath, that helps a guy relax and be himself.

"I think we've seen some signs of that this spring. As Tito [manager Terry Francona] said, it hasn't been a great spring for him. I think that moment will come and where he kind of clicks in and is able to be himself at the big-league level. He could become a real asset for us."

Of course, no wide-ranging Red Sox discussion would be complete these days without some Matsuzaka talk. Epstein is thrilled with the way Matsuzaka and fellow Japanese lefty Hideki Okajima have made the transition to a new culture over the last few weeks.

"I'm very happy with the transition process," Epstein said. "I think both pitchers deserve a lot of credit for their great attitudes towards integrating themselves into the clubhouse and into the Major Leagues, and I think the rest of our players deserve a great deal of credit for turning something that could be a distraction and turning it into a positive. And there are a lot of people in the organization who went out of their way to make this work as well, including the specific support staff for these players."

The 25-man roster that will open the season in Kansas City basically became set earlier this week when Kyle Snyder and Javy Lopez were informed they had landed the final two pitching spots. Could there be any modifications?

"We could be set, but I think we told the last couple of guys that this is baseball, there's always the possibility ... but I expect we're all set," said Epstein. "There's always the possibility of some sort of roster maneuvering. Other teams are trying to sneak guys through waivers this time of year and we have that one almost free spot with Timlin out for a week."

Epstein is aware that he doesn't have a defensive outfielder in the mold of Gabe Kapler or Jay Payton to play in the late innings. But Alex Ochoa and Bobby Scales, both of whom got a lot of time during Spring Training, will be just a short car ride away at Triple-A Pawtucket.

"We'll have that guy when we need him, later in the year," Epstein said. "We have multiple candidates at Pawtucket. Right now, we need to carry 12 pitchers just to keep guys rested and in a good rhythm early in the season. Our bench right now, even with just four guys, takes care of every concern except outfield defense. If we ever go back to 11 pitchers, that 25th spot would be a pinch-runner/defensive-specialist type."

Ole Miss senior guard Armintie Price picked up First Team All-America honors by on Tuesday. The 5-foot-9 Myrtle native was honored by the website after posting a team-leading 19.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3.7 steals per game during the 2006-07 season.

“I feel very blessed,” said Price, who will earn her degree in May. “This has been a very special season for both me and my team. It was a very exciting ride and I feel extremely honored to be recognized by”

Price, the first Ole Miss women’s basketball player to be honored by the world wide leader in sports, led the Rebels to their first Elite Eight appearance since 1992 with wins over TCU, defending national champion Maryland and Big 12 Conference champion Oklahoma. She averaged 27.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.3 steals per game during the NCAA Tournament and was named to the Dayton Region All-Regional Team along with teammate Ashley Awkward.

She finished her Ole Miss career ranked first in steals (403), second in rebounding (1,198) and third in scoring (2,165) on the Rebel all-time charts. She was just the second player in NCAA history to record over 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 assists and 400 steals in a career, joining the legendary Cheryl Miller.

Senior Lindsey Harding of Duke was named the National Player of the Year by and joined Price on the five-person All-America Team. Fellow SEC players junior Sylvia Fowles of LSU and sophomore Candace Parker of Tennessee were on the team along with sophomore Courtney Paris of Oklahoma.

LSU basketball star, the late All-American Pete Maravich, will be featured as part of CBS Sports' NCAA Final Four programming this Saturday as "GEICO Presents College Basketball's 10 Greatest Shooters.

The show will air on Final Four Saturday at 1 p.m. CDT.

The biggest and best names in college basketball will appear in this one-hour special produced by Chicago-based Intersport. Hosted by CBS Sports college basketball analyst Seth Davis, the program will include a full tribute to each of the honorees, including original game footage and interviews with players, coaches and teammates.

The show will also highlight the best big men shooters and the best clutch performances of all time.

The 10 greatest shooters were determined by players, coaches, fans and college basketball historians and by using the criteria of field goal percentage, overall shooting statistics and performance in the "clutch." A partial list of nominees includes:

Steve Alford, Indiana (1984-87); Ray Allen, UConn (1994-96), Lew Alcindor, UCLA (1965-69), Larry Bird, Indiana State (1977-79), Bill Bradley, Princeton (1962-65), Austin Carr, Notre Dame (1969-71), Michael Finley, Wisconsin (1992-95), Michael Jordan, UNC (1982-84), Allen Iverson, Georgetown (1994-96), Christian Laettner, Duke (1989-92), Jerry Lucas, Ohio State (1958-62), Pete Maravich, LSU (1968-70), Reggie Miller, UCLA (1984-87), Chris Mullin, St. John's (1982-85), Calvin Murphy, Niagara (1967-70), J. J. Redick, Duke (2003-06), Glen Rice, Michigan (1986-89), Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati (1958-60), Steve Smith, Michigan State (1987-91) and, Jerry West, West Virginia (1958-60).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Red Sox 2007 Season Preview

Once again for the eighth straight season it seemed as if the Red Sox and the Yankees were going to battle each other for supremacy in the American League East. The Sox got off to a hot start, winning 15 of their first 19 games, and found themselves with a four-game margin over Toronto and New York on July 4. Boston spent more than half the season in first place, but on August 2 it relinquished the top spot. The Red Sox had a brutal August, going 9-21, including a five-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees in Fenway Park. This coincided with Manny being Manny, as the enigmatic slugger played sparingly for the rest of the season after the sweep. The Sox never recovered, and for the first time since 1997 the Red Sox and the Yankees didn't hold the top spots in the AL East.

The team suffered from a lack of pitching. Bronson Arroyo was traded for Wily Mo Pena, Jon Lester had his season cut short due to cancer treatment, David Wells couldn't stay on the mound, Matt Clement was never right before his season ended in June with right shoulder problems, Tim Wakefield missed nearly two months with a stress fracture near his ribs, and Josh Beckett struggled to adjust to the American League. The only bright spot was the emergence of Jonathan Papelbon, who became a lights out closer until his season was stopped after coming down with a right shoulder strain in early September. He became just the second pitcher (Dennis Eckersley) to save at least 30 games with an earned run average under 1.00 since the advent of the modern save.

With that, the Red Sox dished out more than $110 million to import the most sought after free agent pitcher on the market in Daisuke Matsuzaka. Julio Lugo, who became the Sox fifth shortstop since 2004, and J.D. Drew were both signed away from the Dodgers, and Boston did its best to revamp a suspect bullpen. The Manny Ramirez soap opera continued, as he once again asked to be traded and once again was not. And finally, how happy is Curt Schilling after he was told that he would have to play out the final year of his contract without an extension?

Below we take a capsule look at the 2007 edition of the Boston Red Sox, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2006 Finish (86-76) - Third Place (AL East)

KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: RP - Brendan Donnelly, OF - J.D. Drew, SS - Julio Lugo, SP - Daisuke Matsuzaka, RP - Hideki Okajima, RP - Joel Pineiro, RP - J.C. Romero

KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: RP - Keith Foulke, SS - Alex Gonzalez, 2B - Mark Loretta, RF - Trot Nixon

PROJECTED LINEUP: Julio Lugo (SS), Kevin Youkilis (1B), David Ortiz (DH), Manny Ramirez (LF), J.D. Drew (RF), Jason Varitek (C), Mike Lowell (3B), Coco Crisp (CF), Dustin Pedroia (2B)

PROJECTED ROTATION: Daisuke Matsuzaka (RHP), Curt Schilling (RHP), Josh Beckett (RHP), Tim Wakefield (RHP), Julian Tavarez (RHP)

PROJECTED CLOSER: Jonathan Papelbon (RHP)

MANAGER: Terry Francona



Jason Varitek, the captain of the club, had the worst season of his career, hitting .238 with 12 homers and 55 RBI. He caught only 103 games, his lowest since 2001, missing nearly a month after left knee surgery. He'll be 35 in April, and is chomping at the bit to prove that he's not too old to be productive.

Coco Crisp never hit his offensive stride during his first year in Beantown, and apparently Alex Gonzalez didn't bring enough offense to outweigh his fantastic defense. Therefore, Julio Lugo (.278, 12 HR, 37 RBI), who split time with Tampa Bay and the Dodgers, was brought in to lead off. His on-base percentage was 42 points higher than Gonzalez's (.341 to .299) and Lugo hardly strikes out (76). However, he doesn't walk much either (39). He can play anywhere in the infield, although he made 19 errors last season, and can also shift to the outfield if needed.

Kevin Youkilis (.279, 13 HR, 22 RBI) easily made the transition across the diamond from third to first and did everything the Sox needed, including getting on base 38 percent of the time, hitting .310 at home, and leading the team with 120 walks and a .325 average (with at least 100 at-bats) with runners in scoring position. He had an excellent first half of the season, posting a .297 average with 10 homers and 43 RBI but didn't fare as well after the All-Star break.

Mike Lowell (.284, 20 HR, 80 RBI) bounced back from a horrendous 2005. He's as solid as they get on the hot corner, having a better defensive campaign than the one that won him a Gold Glove in 2005. He made only six errors and increased his fielding percentage to a career-best .987. Lowell is in the walk year of his contract and will have to perform well to get one last hefty deal.

The Sox are so confident that Dustin Pedroia (.191, 2 HR, 7 RBI) can handle the big leagues that the second-round draft pick out of Arizona State in 2004 was given the starting second base job despite playing only 31 big league games. He was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket on August 22 and spent the rest of the campaign in Boston. Pedroia has blazed through the minors, hitting .308 with 21 homers, 133 RBI, 167 runs scored and a .392 on-base percentage in 270 games.


It was another unbelievable campaign for Ramirez, batting .321 with 35 homers, 102 RBI, a .619 slugging percentage, and tied for the league lead with a .413 on-base percentage. Manny is one of the premiere right-handed hitters, belting 30 homers and driving in at least 100 runs in 11 of the last 12 seasons. Ramirez was called into question by the media and the fans throughout the last month of the season after playing in only six games with a right knee problem. The thought was that maybe Ramirez didn't work as hard to get back on the field after the five-game sweep by the Yankees. It doesn't matter if he wants to stay or go since the rumors never materialize and his contract is reasonable at this point. Ramirez loves Fenway, posting a .355 average with 16 homers and 53 RBI. He needs 30 homers to join the 500-homer club.

The Red Sox made a big splash with the signing of right fielder Drew, who hit .283 with 20 homers and 100 RBI in career-high 146 contests with the Dodgers. The left-hander fits the mold of the club with an exceptional on-base percentage (.393). It's dangerous to fall behind Drew, who hit .351 with 12 home runs and 46 RBI when ahead in the count. The team reached a preliminary agreement with the slugger, but a balky shoulder held back the official signing. You've got to be thick-skinned to play at Fenway, and Drew will have to perform or the fans will get on him mercilessly. A career National Leaguer, Drew must avoid any early season struggles while getting used to the AL.

Crisp (.264, 8 HR, 36 RBI) never got comfortable in his first season in Boston. He started off hot but fractured a finger within the first two weeks of the season, and was never as consistent when he came back almost a month and a half later. Crisp had significant drop-offs in almost every offensive category, except he did steal a career-high 22 bases. His .317 on-base percentage wasn't good enough to hold on to the leadoff spot in the lineup, but there will be less pressure now that he'll be buried in the order. Crisp played tremendously in the outfield, tying Detroit's Curtis Granderson for the fewest errors (one) by an American League outfielder with at least 250 total chances.


David Ortiz (.287, 54 HR, 137 RBI) is simply one of the deadliest hitters in the game. It's just not fair to the rest of the league that he hits in front of Manny Ramirez. He set career-highs with homers, walks (119), on-base percentage (.413), and slugging percentage (.638). Ortiz led the AL in home runs, RBI, walks, total bases (355), and at-bats per home run (10.3). "Big Papi" finished third for the AL MVP award after breaking the franchise record for homers set by Jimmie Foxx (50). His 32 long balls on the road tied an AL record set by Babe Ruth. He was a monster with two outs, hitting at a .293 clip with 19 homers and 50 RBI, and belted 10 homers and knocked in 79 runs with runners in scoring position. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more clutch hitter in baseball.


Matsuzaka (17-5, 2.13 ERA for the Seibu Lions) was the prized free agent this season, and the Red Sox weren't going to let him slip through their fingers like Jose Contreras. Never has a Japanese player caused such a stir, warranting a $51.1 million posting fee. Boston was so enamored with the right- hander that it outbid every other team by at least $11 million. Matsuzaka, who threw 13 complete games, struck out 200 batters and had a WHIP of .92 last season, was brought in to be the ace of the staff and the face of the franchise. While he is known as a can't miss prospect, you never really know how a pitcher is going to adjust coming over from Japan. He's got a mid-90's four-seam fastball, a two-seamer, a forkball that seems like a changeup, and a devastating curveball (a.k.a. the gyroball). Does it really exist? No one knows, but Matsuzaka isn't spilling the beans as to whether he's got it in his repertoire. It's supposed to look like a slider but dart like a fastball. Either way Matsuzaka is ready to make his mark against the greatest hitters in the world.

Schilling (15-7, 3.97 ERA) came back strong after an injury-riddled 2005, throwing at least 200 innings for the fourth time in the last six years. Schilling was tops on the team and fifth in the AL with 183 strikeouts. Even though he's 40, Schilling is still a big game pitcher. However, the burly right-hander might have shown his age last season. Schilling was 10-3 before the All-Star break but just 5-4 after. He was dominant in Boston, going 9-1 with a 3.06 ERA in 14 starts. Schilling will assuredly be pitching to prove that he's worth another year or two to the Fenway Faithful.

Beckett (16-11, 5.01 ERA) didn't make quite the splash that was expected after coming over from the Marlins. He struggled with his command, giving up a career-high 74 walks, and really faltered in August and September, losing six of his last nine decisions. He notched career-bests and led the team in wins and innings pitched (204 2/3), but relied too much on his fastball against the tougher American League lineups. He'll have to perform better and adjust to the AL or the Red Sox will be kicking themselves for giving him a three-year contract extension in July. The bright side for Beckett was he managed to stay healthy, making 30-plus starts for the first time in his career. Beckett, who'll be 27 in May, should have a better season now that he'll be the third starter.

Wakefield (7-11, 4.63 ERA) is the senior member of the Red Sox, having spent the last 12 seasons in Boston, but the knuckleballer missed a significant amount of time with a fractured rib cage muscle and never got on track. Wakefield, who had his worst season since the 2000 campaign, logged only 23 starts and 140 innings, his least since matching that total in 1999. Wakefield is the second 40-year-old on the staff and that's playing with fire.

The experiment of moving Jonathan Papelbon to the rotation lasted less than five months and Julian Tavarez (5-4, 4.47 ERA, 1 save) will reap the benefits. For the first time since 2002 Tavarez will be a starting pitcher. Tavarez, who will be 34 in May, filled in towards the end of last season and went 3-0 with a 4.01 ERA and a complete game in six outings. Eighty-five of Tavarez's 700 career appearances have been as a starter, and he is 31-28 with a 5.04 ERA, 200 walks and 234 strikeouts in 460 2/3 frames. Tavarez isn't the ideal answer in the rotation, but Lester is expected to return by midseason and Boston should be able to patch it together until then.


It seemed like a bad idea when Papelbon (4-2, 0.92 ERA, 35 saves) announced after the 2006 season that he would come to camp as a starting pitcher. Papelbon gave up just seven earned runs and no other full-time closer gave up as few runs. He struck out 75 guys and walked 13 in 68 1/3 innings. If not for Mariano Rivera everyone would be talking about this young man being the best closer in baseball. However, he wasn't as effective in the second half of the season and was shut down in September, as the rigors of pitching one inning three or four times a week took a toll on his shoulder. After converting his first 20 save chances with a 0.31 ERA he blew six of his next 18 opportunities. The Sox had no other choice but to reinsert Papelbon as the closer after striking out on acquiring a replacement.

One year after setting a franchise record with 81 appearances, Mike Timlin (6-6, 4.36 ERA, 9 saves) made only 68 appearances and blew eight saves. He landed on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder, and his 2007 isn't off to a good start either. Timlin will begin the season on the disabled list with a strained left oblique muscle. During the second half of the season Timlin went 2-6 with a 6.06 ERA.

Brendan Donnelly (6-0, 3.94 ERA) will take the spot of Tavarez and be the seventh inning righty. He appeared in 62 games last season with the Angels, holding opponents scoreless in 21 of his last 23 outings. Donnelly is reliable, pitching in 60-plus games in three of his five seasons. He held right-handers to a .204 average with a fastball, slider, and split-finger.

The rest of the bullpen consists of J.C. Romero, Joel Pineiro and Japanese import Hideki Okajima. Romero (1-2, 6.70 ERA) has fantastic stuff if his head doesn't get in the way. He held lefties to a .202 average last year. Pineiro (8-13, 6.36 ERA, 1 save) will try to transition into a reliever since he's lost his effectiveness as a starter. Okajima (2-2, 2.14 ERA) is a 31-year-old lefty that pitched for the Nipppon Ham Fighters. Okajima, who relies on an average fastball and a good curve, limited left-handers to a .186 average last season. He was 34-32 with a 3.36 ERA and 41 saves in 13 seasons of professional ball in Japan. The battle for the final spot will be between Manny Delcarmen and Kyle Snyder. Delcarmen, a homegrown product from Roxbury, was 2-0 with a 5.06 ERA, while Snyder, who is out of options, went 4-5 with a 6.56 ERA in 17 games, including 11 starts.


Pena, Doug Mirabelli, Eric Hinske and Alex Cora make up a potent bench for the Red Sox. Pena (.301, 11 HR, 42 RBI), who can play all three outfield positions, missed nearly two months after left wrist surgery. Mirabelli (.191, 6 HR, 25 RBI) came back down to earth after a career year with the bat in 2005. The Sox thought they could live without Mirabelli, trading him to San Diego, but with no one to effectively catch Tim Wakefield the Sox reacquired him in May. Hinske (.271, 13 HR, 34 RBI) brings versatility by playing the corner positions in the outfield and infield and has got a little pop with the bat, while Cora (.238, 1 HR, 15 RBI) will backup Pedroia and Lugo.


Rest assured that when the 2006 season ended the Red Sox brass was incredibly unhappy with a third place finish. Another one and Terry Francona may lose his job. Boston played unbelievable defense last year and now they've got the pitching to match. Theo Epstein did a lot of work during the offseason, spending nearly $225 million. Drew will provide protection for Ramirez, not like he needs it, and Lugo is a great addition to the top of the lineup.

The collapse of the pitching staff and the injury bug caused the downfall last season, but the addition of Matsuzaka alone puts Boston in the conversation as having the best rotation in baseball. The biggest question mark with the Red Sox is the guys that will get the ball to Papelbon. Boston gave up 279 runs from the seventh inning or later last year, which was second-worst in the majors (Kansas City gave up 320), and that's why the bullpen has four new faces. As long as Papelbon can stay healthy this team will find itself back in the playoffs. The Red Sox have a fantastic offense, a very good rotation, and a dominant closer. Throw in a defense that led the majors in fielding percentage (.989), committed only 66 errors (14 better than the next closest team), and turned 174 double plays, which was tied for third in baseball, and the Red Sox have a team that's built for a long run in the postseason.

Byrd, Homers Lift LSU past UNO

BATON ROUGE -- Sophomore catcher Robert Lara and junior shortstop Michael Hollander launched back-to-back homers in the fourth inning while sophomore left-hander Ryan Byrd fired a career-high seven innings to lead LSU past New Orleans, 6-3, on Tuesday night at Alex Box Stadium.

The Tigers (15-11-1) pounded out double-digit hits for the third straight game and homered for the seventh consecutive contest. LSU has connected for a homer in 10 of its last 11 games.

The Privateers (16-11), who managed only four hits, lost to the Tigers for the 18th time out of the past 19 meetings. The two teams meet again on April 18 in the Wally Pontiff, Jr. Classic at Zephyr Field in Metairie, La.

Byrd (3-0) tossed the finest performance of his career on Tuesday night, limiting UNO to three hits and three runs -- one earned -- in seven innings. He walked one and struck out a career-best eight batters to maintain his perfect record.

"The big thing for me was I was around the (strike) zone all night," said Byrd. "When you are competitive around the zone, they'll swing at pitches that are out of the zone that they think are strikes. When I got ahead, I could go to the slider or go to the changeup."

Lara tied a career-high with three hits, scored two runs and connected on his first career homer with a three-run shot in the fourth. Hollander added a homer and drove in two runs. Designated hitter Blake Dean extended his hitting streak to a season-high seven games with a 2-for-4 night.

"I thought there were three or four guys tonight that really swung the bat well," said LSU head coach Paul Mainieri. "Lara had a great night with the bat. Michael Hollander did too. Those guys really sparked us."

The game remained scoreless until the top of the fourth when the Privateers took a 2-0 lead after an error by second baseman Chris McGhee, who misplayed a grounder by T.J. Baxter.

UNO second baseman Johnny Giavotella immediately capitalized with an RBI triple to left center. First baseman Greg Wolfe drove in the second run with a sacrifice fly.

However, the 2-0 UNO advantage quickly turned into a 5-2 LSU lead as the Tigers mounted a big inning against starter John Cody. Third baseman J.T. Wise started the barrage with an RBI single, scoring right fielder Steven Waguespack.

Lara, after falling behind in the count, then blasted a 1-2 offering over the left field bleachers for a three-run homer. Hollander followed and belted an opposite field, solo shot over the right field wall to give LSU a 5-2 lead.

"Obviously, Rob Lara's three-run homer was the big blow," said Mainieri. "It was a great at-bat. He did it with two strikes on him and needed to put the ball in play just to get us a run. He hits it out of the ballpark."

The blasts marked the second time this season the Tigers have homered in consecutive at-bats. First baseman Sean Ochinko and Waguespack hit back-to-back homers in a contest versus McNeese State on March 13.

The teams traded runs in the sixth. An LSU error allowed Baxter to reach base and score on a wild pitch. Hollander responded with an RBI single in the bottom of the frame.

Byrd, who fired 103 pitches, gave way to reliever Paul Bertuccini to start the eighth. Bertuccini handcuffed the Privateers the rest of the way, allowing only one hit in two innings to pick up his first career save.

"The story of the game was Ryan Byrd, and Paul Bertuccini did a great job out of the bullpen," said Mainieri. "Byrd has really done a good job for us all year. He really kept them off balance. What really impressed me is how he pitched in clutch situations."

Cody (2-2) suffered the loss, surrendering five runs on six hits in 3.1 innings of work. He walked none and struck out two.

SEC West Tennis Race Heats up as Rebels Host LSU

OXFORD, Miss. – The SEC Western Division race heats up this weekend on the hardcourts, as the No. 10 nationally ranked Ole Miss men’s tennis team battles No.13 LSU and Arkansas seeking to remain atop the West standings and keep pace in the overall race.

The Rebels and Tigers will face off Friday at 2 p.m. at the Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center, a place that has been good to Ole Miss as of late. The Rebels have won 42 of their last 43 regular season home matches and are 10-0 at home this season.

The first 100 fans to Friday’s match will receive a free Rebel Tennis t-shirt compliments of the Ink Spot.

“LSU is a very good team, especially in doubles,” head coach Billy Chadwick said. “They have a recent win over Illinois (No. 7), and they are playing well. One of our goals for the season is to capture the SEC West for the sixth year in a row. We need a big crowd to come out and help us take down the Tigers.”

Ole Miss improved to 16-2 overall, 5-1 in the SEC and gained sole possession of the SEC Western Division with a 5-2 win over Vanderbilt and a 4-0 shutout of Kentucky this past weekend.

LSU comes into the weekend with a 12-3 overall record, 4-2 in the SEC. As a result of their 4-3 loss to Florida in their last match, the Tigers trail Ole Miss by one in the Western Division standings. In that match to Florida, LSU lost the doubles point for only the third time all season. They boast two of the top doubles tandems in the nation. James Cluskey and Ken Skupski are ranked No. 14 in the nation and the Tigers’ No. 2 team of Danny Bryan and Colt Gaston are ranked No. 5. Skupski is ranked No. 24 in singles and owns an 8-6 record at No. 1.

Ole Miss has won five of the last six meetings. The two teams have had some epic battles in recent years. Of the last six meetings, five have been decided by one point. Ole Miss had won five in a row until the Tigers edged the Rebels 4-3 last year in Baton Rouge.

Sunday, Arkansas comes to town for a 1 p.m. match on “Senior Day.” The Rebels will honor seniors Eric Claesson and Fredrik Aarum, and the first 100 fans will receive a free coca-cola bucket hat.

After having to replace six of its top eight from a year ago, Arkansas heads into the weekend at just 7-15 overall and 0-6 in the SEC. They are coming off a tough 4-3 loss at South Carolina. The Razorbacks are playing their 16th match away from home. They are 4-12 on the road this season. Sophomore Blake Strode leads Arkansas, as he is ranked No. 95 in singles and teams with Colin Mascall for a No. 27 doubles ranking.

The Rebels have won 17 straight against Arkansas, including two wins last year. Ole Miss defeated the Razorbacks 4-3 in Fayetteville during the regular season and then again in the quarterfinal round of the SEC Tournament, 4-0. The last time the Razorbacks beat the Rebels (1988), they were members of the Southwest Conference.