As the host school for this weekend’s NCAA baseball regional, LSU had the option of playing at either 2 p.m. or 7 p.m. Friday, and the Tigers opted for the more fan-friendly night game.
“We’re really doing that for the benefit of our fans,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, “so that they can sit and watch the game and be a little bit more comfortable and hopefully become more a part of the game, enthusiasm and passion-wise as opposed to just trying to survive in the heat of the day.”
When asked at 12:30 p.m. Monday what he thought of the decision, first baseman/outfielder Mason Katz squinted at the sun and said, “It’s pretty hot right now, so I’d rather wait until the sun goes down and relax and have time during the day to think it over.”
LSU normally plays at 7 p.m. on Fridays at home, but the Tigers haven’t been home the past two weeks. They played day games on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Southeastern Conference tournament last week. The week before that, they were forced to play a day-night doubleheader on Friday because of a Thursday rainout at South Carolina before finishing the regular season with a Saturday afternoon game.
“It’s just like us playing a big SEC series at home at 7 p.m. Friday,” Katz said.
“It’s going to be good to get back into a normal routine and just wait until the game Friday.”
The Tigers won all five of their Friday night SEC openers in Alex Box Stadium.
LSU’s decision means Oregon State and Belmont will play during the peak heat of the day.
“I’m not sure what the humidity is like in Corvallis (Ore.) or Nashville (Tenn.),” Mainieri said, “but they’ll have to get used to it pretty quickly I’m sure.”
Night start helps Ross
Mainieri said another benefit of playing at night is it won’t be as taxing on catcher Ty Ross, whose conditioning is a little off because of limited practice and playing time the last couple of weeks.
Ross underwent an emergency appendectomy May 12 and missed six games. He pinch hit in the ninth inning of the Tigers’ first game at the SEC tourney, then returned to his position behind the plate the next day. On Friday, he was the designated hitter for the first eight innings, then caught the final two.
“I would hate for him to have to catch during the heat of the day and have endurance problems,” said Mainieri, who added that Ross will be 100 percent healthy.
The finger contusion that Ross’ backup, Jordy Snikeris, sustained at South Carolina won’t be fully healed until some time after the season ends, Mainieri said, but Snikeris has played through the injury, even catching the first eight innings against Mississippi State last Friday.
Weighing pitching options
Mainieri was undecided on his starting pitcher for Friday, saying he would likely name one Tuesday.
Kevin Gausman is the Tigers’ unquestioned No. 1 starter, but top-seeded teams often use their second or third starter against the No. 4 seed in a regional opener and save their top starter for an anticipated matchup with a higher seed the next day.
Aaron Nola or Ryan Eades could start the opener. Mainieri said he and pitching coach Alan Dunn would continue to weigh their options before making an announcement.
“That’s certainly something that we’re contemplating,” Mainieri said of holding back Gausman. “That would not be in any way to take Louisiana-Monroe lightly, of course, because they do have an excellent team.”
ULM has area ties
Mainieri said he watched most of the Warhawks’ 4-3 victory against Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Conference tournament title game on TV on Sunday. ULM is 31-28.
“I watched the game with a great deal of interest,” Mainieri said.
“I actually sent a text message to (ULM coach) Jeff Schexnaider right after the game to congratulate him on his victory and hoped that they would be sent to Baton Rouge.”
Schexnaider, who played and coached at Catholic High, is one of three Warhawks with area ties.
Warhawks left-hander Randy Zeigler (5-6, 3.65 earned run average) is the likely starter Friday. He was a freshman on LSU’s 2009 College World Series title team, making just three relief appearances before injuring his elbow. Zeigler ultimately transferred to Bossier Parish Community College before enrolling at ULM.
Freshman right-hander Ryan Bergeron, who’s 0-0 with a 6.48 era in nine relief appearances, played at Acadiana High.
Beavers are power
Second-seeded Oregon State finished 38-18 and 18-12 in the Pac-12 after winning its last four games and seven of its last eight.
The Beavers are five years removed from the second of back-to-back CSW titles under coach Pat Casey, who’s in his 18th season.
“What can you say about Oregon State?” Mainieri said. “They’re not as well-known or as talked about down here, but they’re one of the very best programs in all of college baseball. You don’t have to look any further than their back-to-back national championships of just a couple of years ago. The major leagues are littered with former Oregon State players and Pat Casey is one of the very best coaches in the country.”
Bruins familiar with SEC
Mainieri admitted to not knowing much about third-seeded Belmont (39-22), though he said that would change in the coming days.
The Bruins were the top seed and won the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament for the second consecutive season.
“I do know they played several SEC teams tough this year,” Mainieri said.
Belmont split two games against Vanderbilt and lost two out of three against Auburn. The Bruins’ strong nonconference schedule also included a 13-4 loss to No. 5 national seed Oregon.
Dozar, Nola get awards
After the NCAA tournament bracket was announced, Mainieri played emcee as a couple of awards were presented to a pair of his players.
Former coach Skip Bertman presented the award named for him that is given annually to a player who demonstrates “leadership, inspiration and courage” to senior infielder Grant Dozar.
Wally Pontiff Sr. presented the Wally Pontiff Jr. Scholar-Athlete Award for excellence on the field and in the classroom to senior shortstop Austin Nola.