Game against Nicholls State could boost Tigers’ résumé
At first glance, Tuesday’s game between LSU and Nicholls State at Alex Box Stadium would appear to be an unwelcome distraction amid the Tigers’ three-wide chase for the Southeastern Conference regular season championship.
On the contrary, LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. There is plenty at stake for the Tigers when they welcome the Colonels at 6:30 p.m. for what is the last scheduled game at The Box this season.
“We’re approaching this game like every game we play, midweek or weekend,” Mainieri said. “When you pull that LSU jersey over your head you have a great responsibility to go out and play as hard and as well as you can.”
There are a number of important factors in play for the Tigers, among them:
40 wins: LSU (39-13) is trying to reach the 40-win mark within the confines of the regular season, an important benchmark of success in college baseball and often more elusive than people think.
The Tigers have won 40 in the regular season only twice since 1998: 2004 and 2009. LSU went to the College World Series in ’04 and won it in ’09.
“Winning 40 games is a tremendous accomplishment,” Mainieri said.
Midweek mastery: the Tigers are 13-0 in midweek games this season, a rare achievement even for a program with LSU’s résumé. “That illustrates we take them (midweek games) seriously,” Mainieri said. Speaking of mastery, LSU has won 20 of its past 21 against Nicholls.
Ending the streak: The Tigers lost last weekend’s series to Vanderbilt, falling 6-3 on Saturday and 5-4 in 10 innings Sunday after winning 2-1 on Friday. But keeping losing streaks from expanding is something this team has been adept at: The Tigers haven’t lost more than two straight all season. “We want to get that bitter taste out of our mouths after losing the last two games,” Mainieri said.
R é sum é building: Having slipped to No. 9 in the Baseball America and USA Today/ESPN polls — LSU is still No. 4 in Collegiate Baseball — the Tigers need to try to build some momentum going into this week’s big series at South Carolina. At 17-10, the Tigers find themselves one game behind Kentucky in the overall SEC standings (LSU has clinched first place in the SEC West and an SEC tournament bye) and are one-half game behind South Carolina (17-9).
“It goes on our résumé for hosting regionals and national seeds,” Mainieri said. “It doesn’t affect the SEC championship (chase), but you want to have the most success you can. We’re playing for a lot (against Nicholls).”
In a departure from recent midweek strategy, Mainieri will start sophomore right-hander and former Friday night starter Kurt McCune against Nicholls.
McCune, 2-4 with a 4.21 earned run average, will be making just his sixth start of this season.
For most of the season, he has been a middle reliever with the rise of freshman Aaron Nola all the way into the Saturday night slot.
“He didn’t pitch this past weekend,” Mainieri explained. “He’s a vital part of our team and needs to get out there and get some work.”
Mainieri said he expects usual midweek starter Joe Broussard (4-0, 3.63 ERA) to also get some work, among others.
There is no change in the status of regular starting catcher Ty Ross, who underwent an appendectomy Saturday night and is expected to be out two weeks.
Jordy Snikeris started in his place but was victimized by Vandy’s base runners, who were 9-of-9 stealing bases.
“We’re playing it day-by-day,” Mainieri said. “Certainly he’s out all this week, but we hope to take him to Hoover (Ala., site of the SEC tournament).
“We’ll monitor him to see if he can play in the SEC.”
Mainieri minced no words about the fact that his Tigers are diminished without Ross, third on the team with a .305 average, three home runs and 35 RBIs.
“I always believe the catcher is the most important nonpitching position on the team,” he said. “He’s involved in virtually every play. I think Ty Ross is one of the top three or four players on our team.
“Losing a player of that magnitude is going to have an effect on you.”
Nicholls State (25-25, 12-17 Southland Conference) comes into Tuesday’s game trying to build momentum for a late run at the final spot in next week’s SLC Tournament in San Marcos, Texas.
The Colonels won their first series in nearly a month this past weekend, taking two of three in Thibodaux from Northwestern State with a Sunday doubleheader split.
Nicholls is in 10th place in the Southland — the top eight teams make the tournament — and could get there by winning the series starting Thursday at Stephen F. Austin.