Paul Mainieri ran out of reasons for gamesmanship in naming a starting pitcher for Saturday.
It’s Ryan Eades getting the ball at 6 p.m. Saturday against Oklahoma as LSU tries to secure its first trip to the College World Series since 2009.
The junior from Slidell got the call over sophomore left-hander Cody Glenn, and he’ll look to erase the stain of a woeful outing against Jackson State last weekend during the NCAA tournament regional opener.
So what went into Mainieri’s decision, which he had put off until Friday night? Learning where Eades, who charted pitches Friday, would go in the Major League Baseball draft.
“I didn’t know if he was going to have his heart broken and be down in the dumps and if it was going to affect his feeling about himself going out there,” Mainieri said.
Mainieri was hearing whispers Eades, who had shoulder surgery in high school, might fall because of concerns over a medical risk, but tried to quash those notions by saying Eades — who went No. 43 overall to Minnesota — hadn’t missed a start or side work.
“I was just really worried he might drop far in the draft,” Mainieri said. “I didn’t want to commit to starting him until I knew what kind of mental state of mind he was going to be in.”
Eades (8-1, 2.81 ERA) battled humid conditions and a rain delay before being yanked after just 2.1 innings in his shortest outing of the season last week. Throwing 55 pitches, he allowed two runs on four hits but walked three batters, hit two more and heaved a wild pitch as LSU went on to a wild 11-7 win over Jackson State.
Filling out his lineup, Mainieri was able to pencil in Sean McMullen, Mark Laird and JaCoby Jones into their usual spots for the first time since May 14 against UNO.
The trio didn’t disappoint, going a combined 4-for-10, led by Laird’s three hits that included an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning to make it 2-0.
Jones, who injured his left hand moving a television in his apartment, missed seven games, including all five during the Tigers’ run to an SEC tournament title.
“It felt great to have everybody back and well,” said Laird, who sat out four games with a sprained ankle before returning against the Louisiana-Lafayette last weekend in the NCAA regional final. “McMullen’s not a hundred percent yet, but he’s going to be come next week, but we’re going to forget about this one and come back tomorrow and try to get another one.”
McMullen came back to the leadoff spot after straining a hamstring during LSU’s victory over Sam Houston State last Saturday.
Oklahoma starter Jonathan Gray and counterpart Aaron Nola of LSU carried in reputations as workhorse aces, with each clearing the 100-pitch mark for a combined 26th time this season.
“When I went up to the plate, I just looked at the catcher and said, ‘Holy pitchers’ duel,’ ” LSU first baseman Mason Katz said.
Gray reached it by the seventh inning and hit 118 pitches before being lifted in the bottom of the eighth after pinch hitter Tyler Moore hit a one-run double to right field for a 1-0 lead.
“You needed to win the pitch count in a game like this,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said
Yet Gray, a 6-4, 239-pound junior, is familiar with high pitch counts. The No. 3 overall pick in the MLB draft cleared the 120-pitch plateau three times this season, including a career-high 129 last week in a complete-game victory against Coastal Carolina.
Golloway said he’d already decided to remove Gray after the eighth inning, given his high workload in recent weeks.
Nola, meanwhile, was efficient in throwing 102 pitches — giving him 12 outings with more than 100 — during his complete game shutout where he struck out six and only allowed two hits.
Hints at a record crowd inside Alex Box Stadium were apparent early this week when season ticket holders gobbled up seats before a Tuesday deadline.
On Friday, a single-game record 11,095 fans the filled seats, which is also the largest crowd the Sooners have played in front of this season.
“A couple of times you catch yourself enjoying the environment,” Golloway said. “I coach baseball, and I love those types of games and I love the atmosphere.”
Before Friday, the largest crowd for a Sooners game this season was 9,174 for the series opener of the Bedlam Rivalry against Oklahoma State on May 10, but that was at OneOK Field in Tulsa on a neutral field.
“Anybody who hasn’t been to Alex Box Stadium for a game like this, at this time of year, needs to put that on their bucket list,” Mainieri said.
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