LSU notes: Expansive Hoover Met an advantage for speedy outfielders

Associated Press file photo by DAVE MARTIN -- LSU center fielder Andrew Stevenson makes a catch to take away a hit from Vanderbilt's Vince Conde with the bases loaded in the fifth inning of last year's Southeastern Conference tournament championship game in Hoover, Ala.
Associated Press file photo by DAVE MARTIN -- LSU center fielder Andrew Stevenson makes a catch to take away a hit from Vanderbilt's Vince Conde with the bases loaded in the fifth inning of last year's Southeastern Conference tournament championship game in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Ala. — For big-slugging guys like Kade Scivicque, the expansive ballpark that is Hoover Metropolitan Stadium isn’t too friendly.

For speedy outfielders like Andrew Stevenson, it’s a gold mine.

“I like Hoover,” Stevenson said. “It’s a big outfield. A lot of space to run in.”

Oh yes. Everyone remembers.

LSU will play its first game Wednesday at the Hoover Met since winning the Southeastern Conference tournament title last season, in part a result of Stevenson’s dazzling catch in the championship game.

Racing toward the left-center wall, Stevenson made an over-the-shoulder catch of Vanderbilt shortstop Vince Conde’s line drive. The catch saved as many as three runs. The bases were loaded with two outs in the fifth inning.

Best situational catch of Stevenson’s career?

He doesn’t have much doubt.

“Probably so,” he said smiling.

No. 3 seed LSU (40-14-1) meets No. 6 seed Vanderbilt (41-16) at 9:30 a.m. in a double-elimination game.

The loser must win three single-elimination games in three days to advance to Sunday’s title game. The winner, with a win Thursday, gets a bye Friday and advances to Saturday’s semifinals at the sizeable park.

Hoover Met is 340 feet down the left- and right-field lines, and it’s a whopping 385 down the power alleys.

“It definitely plays a lot bigger than it is,” Stevenson said. “The gaps play really big. It’s an advantage to a faster outfield. I think we have a pretty fast outfield.’

Secret: just have fun

Sean McMullen never knew just how successful LSU has been at the SEC tournament under coach Paul Mainieri.

The Tigers have won the event four times in their five trips to Hoover under the coach. He’s 18-4 there.

“That’s impressive,” McMullen said.

How have they done it? By just having fun.

“He really doesn’t put a lot of pressure on us at all,” McMullen said. “He says, ‘Look guys, it’s a great, fun tournament to remember. If you win the thing, you’ll have a lifetime of memories.’ ”

Mainieri lifts the pressure off of his players because the pressure is off of him.

“I see the postseason as just being a ball of fun,” the coach said. “That’s how I approach it every year. I feel great when we qualified (for an NCAA regional) and put ourselves in a good position, and we’ve done that.”

The rookies

Last year around this time, Conner Hale was a junior college baseball player watching the SEC tournament like everyone else.

“I watched the game when they won last year against Vanderbilt,” Hale said. “I want to do the same thing this year.”

Hale has been an everyday starter for the Tigers at first or second base. The veterans and Mainieri have told Hale and the other newbies what to expect at an event featuring nine teams in the top-33 in the RPI.

“(They) get a lot of fans, 14,000,” Hale said. “Never played in front of that many. Should be a fun experience.”

Moore national player

LSU catcher Tyler Moore was named Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of Week. He batted .500 with three doubles, one homer and 13 RBIs in four games last week.