Absence of Ross could cost LSU
After watching the third-ranked LSU baseball team drop a 5-4, 10-inning loss Sunday in the home finale, coach Paul Mainieri called Vanderbilt’s series-clinching win the toughest defeat of the season.
It’s easy to see why.
LSU twice took the lead in the bottom of half of innings, but gave it away both times in the ensuing top half. The Tigers, who’d been able to pull out close wins all season, lost a game they led after eight innings for the first time in 34 such scenarios.
But tough losses come and go.
Of much greater concern moving forward is the thought of LSU continuing to chase its goals with sophomore catcher Ty Ross watching from the bench.
All was well with the Tigers when they headed home Friday night after taking a 2-1 victory over Vanderbilt. They had clinched the West Division. They had kept pace with South Carolina to maintain a share of first place in the overall SEC standings.
But when Mainieiri learned Saturday afternoon Ross was due to undergo an appendectomy, he knew the Tigers would be without their third-leading hitter for an undetermined number of games during the stretch run.
He knew it wasn’t good.
“I was knocked back a couple of steps because I knew the ramifications of it,” Mainieri said. “I knew how important he is to our team.”
If there were any doubts, Vanderbilt put them to rest with their activity Saturday and Sunday on the base paths.
The Commodores stole nine bases off backup catcher Jordy Snikeris — on nine attempts. They tried stealing only one on Ross in Friday’s opener — and got thrown out.
Ross started 46 of LSU’s first 50 games behind the plate, throwing out 16 of the 43 runners who tried to steal on him. He’d evolved into a leader on defense.
“I think Ty Ross is the most improved player in the SEC,” Mainieri said.
The hard part is not knowing how much time Ross will need to recover from Saturday’s surgery. Mainieri figures about two weeks, but the fact he plays the game’s most taxing position could keep him out even longer.
The good news is the Tigers enter next weekend’s series at South Carolina with all their goals still in front of them. Foremost is creating the easiest path possible to the CWS.
LSU has a glittery résumé that includes a top-10 position in the RPI report, but the strength of the SEC could work against Mainieri’s team.
Would the NCAA selection committee reward one conference with half of the tournament’s eight national seeds? If the answer is no, then LSU will have to beat out league leader Kentucky, two-time defending CWS champ South Carolina or Florida (which entered the weekend at No. 1 in the RPI rankings) in what would amount to a four-team race for three national seeds.
The Tigers’ fate could be determined by how well they adjust without one of the SEC’s top all-around catchers. Or how soon they get him back.