It wasn’t so much an announcement as it was confirming the obvious.
Meeting with the media for the first time since LSU clinched its 16th College World Series appearance, coach Paul Mainieri said Monday that sophomore right-hander Aaron Nola will get the call for the Tigers when they face UCLA on Sunday in their CWS opener.
“It’s a dream come true,” Nola said. “I’m definitely excited to soak in the environment, see all the LSU fans and go out there and compete against UCLA’s pitcher the first game.”
UCLA coach John Savage would seem to have two options for the first game, but Mainieri said he expects the Bruins to go with junior right-hander Adam Plutko.
Plutko (8-3, 2.35 ERA) became the winningest postseason pitcher in UCLA history when he went seven innings to get the win against San Diego State in the Los Angeles Regional’s opening round. He returned to pitch seven more innings in the first game of UCLA’s super regional against Cal State Fullerton, allowing six hits and holding the Titans without an earned run.
Plutko was an 11th-round selection by the Cleveland Indians in last week’s draft.
The Bruins could also turn to Nick Vander Tuig, another junior right-hander. Tuig went the first 6.1 innings of a 3-0 shutout against Fullerton on Saturday.
Mainieri, who waited until after Nola beat Oklahoma in Game 1 of the super regionals to name a Game 2 starter, said he will have a similar approach this week.
Second-round draft pick Ryan Eades ended up getting the nod against Oklahoma ahead of sophomore left-hander Cody Glenn and senior lefty Brent Bonvillian, and he appeared to have settled in before a 52-minute rain delay. Mainieri did not go back to Eades after the delay, but said Monday he thought the junior right-hander from Slidell probably had another two innings in him.
Glenn was scheduled to throw a five-inning simulated game during Monday’s practice. He has not pitched since LSU’s opening game of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
“I’m going to keep open-minded about it,” Mainieri said of his Game 2 starter. “I want to see how Cody looks, and I want to see who we’re going to be playing.”
There’s no such debate when it comes to a starter in the first game.
LSU sports a record of 15-1 this season in games that Nola (12-0, 1.68) starts. Nola threw a two-hit shutout against Oklahoma on Friday, his fifth complete game of the season.
“When he’s out there, we always know we have a chance to win,” LSU outfielder Raph Rhymes said.
LSU designated hitter Sean McMullen returned to the leadoff spot in LSU’s lineup for the super regionals, but Mainieri said he could tell the junior from Metairie wasn’t himself.
McMullen missed the championship game of the Baton Rouge Regional after pulling up lame with a hamstring injury in a victory over Sam Houston State the night before.
Mainieri said he hopes McMullen, who went 0-for-7 against Oklahoma over the weekend, will be back to full strength by this weekend.
“He told me he’s feeling a lot better already,” Mainieri said. “Hopefully, as this week progresses, he’ll be able to start running more at full speed and kind of get himself mentally ready to play the way he’s capable of playing.”
LSU has not played in the CWS since 2009, but Mainieri told his players Monday they should be ready for college baseball’s biggest stage.
Mainieri said playing in front of big crowds at Alex Box Stadium mimics, in some ways, playing in front of big crowds at TD Ameritrade Park. He said the media attention received by the LSU program throughout the year mimics, to some extent, the media attention in Omaha.
Also, he said competing in the SEC gets you ready for competing against the nation’s best teams.
“I told them they should be more prepared for it than any team in the country,” Mainieri said. “Everything we’re going to see, we face on a daily basis at LSU. It shouldn’t be a big difference.”
National Freshman of the Year Alex Bregman received another honor Monday when the shortstop from Albuquerque, N.M., was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Freshman All-American team.
Bregman was joined on the team by Southeastern Louisiana catcher Jameson Fisher, a Zachary High School graduate.
Bregman has played shortstop and batted third all year for LSU, and heads to the CWS this week needing only six hits to tie the school record for hits in a season.
Fisher, a member of the All-Southland Conference tournament team, led Southeastern with three homers and two triples on the season.
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