It was past midnight when Josh Pearson planted his feet in the batter’s box at the Hoover Met Stadium.
Pearson, a freshman outfielder, had already played the best game of his LSU career and it was only the seventh inning. He had recorded four hits in four plate appearances – three singles and a double in the third inning.
He had three-hit games earlier this season against Nicholls State and Mississippi State. But neither performance matched the explosiveness on display in an 11-6 victory against Kentucky on Thursday night. Fourth-seeded LSU (39-18) defeated the 12th-seeded Wildcats (31-25) in the second round of the SEC Tournament. The Tigers play No. 1 and top-seeded Tennessee (50-7) on Friday night.
Pearson worked a 2-2 count before getting a hanging breaking ball from Wildcats left-handed reliever Jackson Nove. He destroyed Nove’s mistake, depositing the ball over the right field wall and into the trees. Pearson became the first player in program history to record five hits in an SEC Tournament game.
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The win was another product of an odd trend that’s coming to the forefront in the last few weeks: LSU has been better on the road than at home. It’s a development that begs the question of whether or not hosting a regional would even be in the Tigers’ best interests.
LSU is 12-9 in games away from Alex Box Stadium. That isn’t as strong as its 26-9 home record.
But a closer look at the results tells a different story.
Nineteen of LSU’s 26 home wins have come against non-Power 5 opponents. Many of the games were lopsided affairs, with the Tigers defeating the likes of Maine, Bethune-Cookman and Grambling State by double-digits.
Against SEC foes, LSU is 7-8 and was swept by Ole Miss in its final home series of the season. It got outscored by 15 runs in the series, losing 5-3, 11-1 and 8-5. The 11-1 defeat was the Tigers ’worst loss of the season.
Could this all be a coincidence? Possibly. But LSU has also consistently played well on the road.
When facing SEC teams away from Baton Rouge, LSU is 11-5 and has won six of its last seven games.
And standout performances, like the one Pearson had on Thursday, have been more common away from Alex Box Stadium as well.
Just last week, designated hitter Brayden Jobert won the SEC Player of the Week after driving in nine runs and hitting a grand slam in Saturday’s win over Vanderbilt that completed a series sweep. Outfielder Dylan Crews, in the same series, blasted four home runs.
LSU’s starting pitchers, a unit that has had its faults all season, have also performed better away from home. Staff ace Ma’Khail Hilliard allowed fewer earned runs in his two starts against Kentucky and Vanderbilt combined (three) than in his last start at home against Ole Miss (four). Sophomore Ty Floyd also made his best start of the season last Friday against the Commodores, allowing just one earned run in 5⅓ innings pitched.
So does LSU need to host a regional? That is a question still up for debate. LSU coach Jay Johnson and his players probably wouldn’t be opposed to sleeping in their own beds ahead of the biggest games of their season.
But if Pearson’s home run on Thursday or the last few weeks has spent anything, it’s that LSU can win on the road. And even if it does host a regional, the Tigers will need that skill to win a super regional that will likely be away from Baton Rouge and College World Series games in Omaha.
Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser and the USA TODAY Sports South Region. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @KokiRiley.