LSU notebook: Jared Poché in line for weekend role

Just a day ago, Jared Poché didn’t have a clue about his role on the LSU baseball team.

It’s out now.

A freshman from Lutcher, Poché is expected to, at least eventually, grab one of the weekend starting pitching spots.

During the team’s media day Friday, coach Paul Mainieri released the news to a room full of reporters. It trickled onto the field to Poché.

“That would be great,” he said.

The job’s not solidified, but Mainieri is expecting the young gun to be in the weekend starting rotation in six weeks.

“I think there’s a pretty good chance he’s going to be in our weekend rotation by the time we go to Vanderbilt (for the first SEC series in mid-March),” Mainieri said. “He’s going to be a starting pitcher right out of the gate. ... I would not be surprised at all if Jared Poché emerges as a starter even as a freshman. He’s not a typical freshman.”

Poché, the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year last season, led Lutcher to a state title in 2013, going 11-0 with a 0.80 ERA.

He’s competing with junior Cody Glenn and junior college transfer Kyle Bouman for the two weekend starting spots behind ace Aaron Nola.

Mainieri admits it’s “a rare occasion” for a true freshman to hold a weekend starting spot during his run as coach at LSU.

“Aaron Nola was an exception. Kevin Gausman was an exception. And I believe and I hope Jared Poché will be an exception,” Mainieri said. “You just don’t see it very often.”

Poché has a fastball, curveball and changeup; he said his curveball is his best pitch. He’s learning quickly the differences between high school and college hitters.

Jared Foster hit a home run off Poché in practice this week.

“If I make a mistake, hitters here are going to expose that,” he said.

Mainieri against unionizing

College athletes unionizing “would be a disaster,” Mainieri said.

Football players from Northwestern are beginning the process of forming a labor union, and Mainieri was asked about it. It’s part of one of the hot topics in college athletics: whether players should receive more than just scholarship money.

Mainieri criticized players on full scholarship who believe they should be paid extra. In baseball, the NCAA allots just 11.7 scholarships to be dispersed over 27 players. No one LSU player receives a full scholarship, Mainieri said.

“I get a little upset with players that are on full scholarship that think they are the reason all of the fans are coming to the games. The third-string long snapper who’s on a full ride, getting a $200,000 scholarship over five years, isn’t getting paid enough? Please,” he said.

“My kids are going out here and working hard every day, and some of them aren’t even on scholarship. And if they’re on scholarship, their families are having to pay well over half the cost. It’s amateur athletics. That’s the thing that makes college different than professional sports. I’m just not in favor of unionization. I’m not in favor of paying athletes beyond the full scholarships.”

Ticket demand high

In about one day earlier this week, LSU sold nearly 4,000 individual game tickets, and most Saturday conference home games are already standing-room-only, LSU ticket operations director Brian Broussard said.

LSU maxed out its season tickets at 9,300 and had to deny “a few hundred” fans this year. “The demand is higher than last season,” Broussard said.

Fans bought 3,800 tickets Wednesday and Thursday during a sale that obligated fans to buy 15 or more tickets at a time. Single game tickets went on sale Friday.

UNO for USC

LSU opens the season against UNO on Feb. 14 at Alex Box Stadium, but Mainieri said the Tigers had been scheduled to play Southern California in an opening series.

Second-year USC coach Dan Hubbs canceled the series about 18 months ago, and LSU scurried to find a replacement.

Mainieri picked UNO, where he played two years of college baseball under Ron Maestri. Maestri has returned to the dugout for the first time in years this season as the Privateers coach. Mainieri called Maestri “my mentor, my second father.”

“Opening day is going to be very special to me personally,” he said.

The Tigers meet the Privateers on Feb. 15 at Zephyr Field, a game originally scheduled for UNO’s newly renovated Maestri Park. Renovations will not be complete in time.

Those games are part of the Urban Invitational, a round-robin tournament designed by Major League Baseball to place a spotlight on HBCUs. LSU’s home game against Grambling on Feb. 16 is part of the event and will be televised live on MLB Network.

Other games include Grambling at Southern (6 p.m. Feb. 14), Southern vs. Grambling in New Orleans (1 p.m. Feb. 15) and Southern vs. UNO at Alex Box Stadium (noon Feb. 16, MLB Network).