LSU Hopes To Continue Winning Trend At Alex Box

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Crucial Weekend Set With Top Ranked Florida

By John Ventola

For those LSU baseball fans who cancelled their June room reservations in Omaha two weeks ago, this weekend’s three game series with No. 1 Florida may have them scrambling to reconnect with Nebraska-Iowa contacts.

Seemingly destined to just be playing out the season after dropping two of three on the

LSU

Successful Weekend Could Be Catalyst For Postseason Play

road to Ole Miss to finish off April (28-16 overall and 11-10 in the SEC), the Tigers have gone on a nine-game winning streak that includes three game SEC sweeps of Arkansas and Tennessee. The spurt has put the growl back in the Bengal baseballers and should have Alex Box rocking this weekend.

Thirty years ago LSU made its first College World Series appearance. Since then it has been an annual goal to make another appearance in Omaha, and bring back home the proverbial “baseball bacon”, the national title. Six times (’91, ’93, ’96, ’97, 2000, ’09) the Tigers were successful, establishing the program as one of the best in the SEC, and the nation.

While Skip Bertman had a magical decade that produced five of the championships, it has been tough to watch LSU “struggle” to reach that level of dominance over the past sixteen years. CWS appearances continued under Smoke Lavel (yep, he was 0-4 with two and barbeque appearances in ’03 and’04) and Paul Maineri (’08, ’09, ’13, ‘15). Maineri did add a title with a well-balanced team in 2009, but Omaha (Alex Box West) has been far from a sure thing.

Last season’s squad seemed to have all of the parts. and featured one of college baseball’s best pitchers in freshman Alex Lange. A team equipped and ready to compete. However, the bats went silent, and there was not enough pitching to extend

ball

Trip To Omaha Last Season Big Disappointment

the Tigers’ stay in Nebraska. Eight of the nine position players graduated, or were drafted. Only consistent outfielder Jake Fraley returned for the 2016 season.

Maineri has probably done one of this best coaching jobs this season. He has tinkered with his lineup to cover up deficiencies, overcome injuries, and put the hottest players in games. To complicate things, Lange and No. 2 starter Jared Poche have not performed up to their level of last year. Soft tossing transfer John Valek was inserted as the No. 3 starter, but the book got out on him and his pitching pattern was soon figured out. His 6-2 record is somewhat deceiving, but his ERA of 4.13 has been steadily rising after his initial success.

Lange has worked out some mechanical pitching issues, regaining some of his dominate stuff recently. Early season control problems have been worked on (not only

pitcher

Lange Effort Tonight Will Set Tone For Weekend

walks, but getting behind in pitch counts), and his effort today will be the key to Tigers success against the Gators. Lange (7-3, 3.76 ERA, 41 BB, 95 SO) will be opposed by unbeaten Logan Shore (10-0, 2.29 ERA), one of Florida’s talented hurlers. The Gators’ starting pitching rotation is considered probably the best in the country.

LSU will have to win the opener in order to avoid putting extreme pressure on Riley Smith. Maineri, who demoted Valek after recent struggles, has Smith slated to start the second game after the righthander was impressive in a recent start, his first of the season. In eight appearances, Smith has a 7.36 ERA in just 14.2 innings of work. Florida will counter with talented lefthander A.J. Puk who has struck out 82 hitters while compiling a 2.88 ERA.

Poche, who has also struggled recently, has been pushed back to game three. The junior lefthander has a 6-4 record and a 4.0 ERA. Sophomore righthander Alex Faedo will toe the rubber for Florida. He comes into the game with an impressive 10-1 record, 3.59 ERA, and 99 strikeouts in 72.2 innings of work.

Pitching coach Alan Dunn and Maineri have worked around a staff without overpowering arms. They have overcome recent problems with Poche and Valek by

newspaper

Johnny Wholestaff And Clutch Hitting Will Determine Success

using Johnny Wholestaff. Maybe lacking in quality, they have used the quantity routine to get situations under control, playing high percentage baseball—lefty on lefty, etc.

The Tigers, now ranked No. 8, stand at 37-16, 17-10 SEC, after the recent winning streak. The third best hitting team in the SEC (.298), LSU will need to hit with men on base against Florida. The lineup features seven hitters that hit .306 or better, but many of the Tigers loses stemmed from a failure to deliver hits in key situations. The team leads the SEC with 85 steals but needs to avoid base running blunders that could stymie rallies.

Gutsy Kramer Robertson (.320), Fraley (.326) and team leader Antoine Duplantis (.329) need to set the table for the Jordan trio—brothers Bryce and Beau Jordan and Jordan Romero, if LSU is going to avoid being swept by the high powered Gators (43-9, 18-8 SEC).

Taking two of three from Florida may be a tough assignment. The Tigers have compiled a 23-9 record at The Box this season. Maineri has his Boys of Spring playing well at the moment, and a successful series could lead to bigger and better things at the SEC tournament, regionals, super regionals, and, should I say, Omaha.

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