LSU Lack Of Dependable Arms Cuts CWS Play Short
By John Ventola
LSU’s seventeenth trip to the College World Series ended with a third game loss to TCU that also put the finishing touches on a 54-12 season by the Tigers. For a veteran team that was ranked near or at the top of national polls all season long, losing two straight games to the Horned Frogs might be called disappointing by some, but Coach Paul Mainieri’s ability to conceal the squad’s lack of dependable pitching depth made it one of his finest coaching campaigns in Baton Rouge.
Mainieri used a nucleus of talented, veteran position players along with a superb freshman season by unbeaten freshman pitcher Alex Lange to win the overall
Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship, make a nice SEC tournament run, and win five straight Regional and Super Regional games. Lange and sophomore lefthander Jared Poche both pitched exceptionally well to win Regional (both against UNC-Wilmington), and Super Regional (both against UL-Lafayette) games, while other staff members divided a Regional opener against lowly Lehigh.
College baseball demands a balanced, deep pitching staff to gobble up innings during a compact 60-game schedule, and Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn manipulated some young arms around Lange and Poche as the year progressed. While the youngsters were able to perform well enough to get through some competition, they were not able to come to Poche’s rescue in the first TCU encounter, and failed to string together enough “0’s” in the second Horned Frog matchup.
Lange pitched masterfully in the final eight innings of his route-going 5-3 win over Cal State-Fullerton (after giving up three first inning runs), his performance reminding many LSU fans of Brett Laxton’s 16- strike out championship game outing against Wichita
State in 1993. Laxton, a hard thrower as a frosh that season, lost much of his velocity before finishing his career three years later. Lange, who depends more on a dominant breaking pitch, will hopefully avoid any arm woes over the next two seasons, and be able to maintain his velocity. If so, he has the potential of becoming one of LSU’s highest draft picks since Tigers great Ben McDonald was the top draft choice in 1989.
Mainieri gambled and started Poche against TCU in game one. His reasoning, the Horned Frogs feature a number of lefthanded hitters. Poche breezed through three perfect innings, but threw away two straight balls that were hit back to him in the fourth inning. Poche never recovered his composure, and the bullpen failed to put out any flames as the Frogs ran away with the 10-3 win.
After Lange kept the Tigers alive, Mainieri again used his lefty-on-lefty baseball logic for the TCU rematch. Lefthander Zac Person, the eighth Tiger player and only LSU pitcher taken in this year’s major league draft, could not get a curve ball over the plate and departed in the bottom of the second inning after allowing two singles and walking two batters. Reliever Hunter Newman grooved his first pitch and was touched for a two-run single.
Newman righted himself, got out of the second inning, and pitched a strong third inning
after LSU tied the game in the top of the inning 3-3, Newman was replaced by freshman Austin Bain to start the fourth frame. Bain pitched a strong fourth inning before walking two batters, balking, and giving up a double in the fifth. Fellow freshman Jake Godfrey relieved Bain, made a 0-2 pitch too hittable, and allowed a single to give TCU what would be an insurmountable 6-3 lead. Another freshman, Doug Norman, and Parker Bugg were touched up for two additional runs and although the Tigers got one back, Jared Foster struck out with two players in scoring position for the final out to complete the 8-4 game.
Seven position players, shortstop Alex Bregman, catcher Kade Schivicque, first baseman Chris Chinea, second baseman Foster, third baseman Connor Hale, center fielder Andrew Stevenson, and right fielder Mark Laird were all chosen in the major league draft. Only left fielder Jake Fraley, a sophomore ineligible for the draft, can be counted on to return to the Tigers next season. Bregman, Schivicque, and the fleet outfield duo of Stevenson and Laird will be particularly difficult to replace. All eight
position players were solid and productive during the regular season, but seemed to go into a collective slump in the postseason. Runs were hard to come by, and much too difficult to prevent despite solid defense.
Mainieri has some players that could step into positions next season after playing backup roles this season, but more than likely the coach will have to get an infusion of junior college talent, and another top high school recruiting class to prevent too great of a drop off in the team’s ability level.
LSU’s 2014 recruiting class, bolstered by outstanding pitchers, was rated No. 1 in the country. However, two highly regarded lefthanders, Mac Marshall and Jake Latz, were lost when Marshall left campus after a few days to attend Chipola, Florida Junior College so he would be eligible for the 2015 draft, and Latz suffered an injury that kept him inactive for the year. Latz, the tenth rated lefthander out of high school to attend college, passed on a $900,000 signing bonus to attend LSU. Godfrey, a 21st round draft choice of Atlanta, suffered control problems most of his freshman season. The power pitcher was rated the seventh best righthander out of high school to attend college. Lange, meanwhile, was rated as 52nd, and Norman was rated 85th.
Maturation, and an athlete fulfilling their potential, comes gradually for some, speedier for others. Lange showed composure and maturity throughout his 12-0 season, easily winning the Freshman Pitcher of the Year in college baseball. Godfrey and Norman, meanwhile, struggled.
The entire pitching staff will return except for Person, and although Lange and Poche should again lead next year’s staff, top 2015 pitching prospect Cole McKay, Latz,,
freshman hurlers Godfrey, Norman, Bain, and Jesse Stallings, and sophomores Bugg, Russell Reynolds, Alden Cartwright, and Collin Strall should all benefit from a year of college experience, and be capable to better handle pitching chores next season. Members of “Jack Wholestaff”, as Mainieri named his pitching committee, each have live arms, but seemed to be lacking in the nuances of finesse pitching, often grooving pitches in key situations, and failing to mix pitches and alternate locations.
How nice it would have been to have had Jake Latz or Mac Marshall toeing the rubber in Omaha! Or a confident Jake Godfrey! As they say in coaching, time to “coach’em up”. February will be here before you know it, and the Floridas and Vanderbilts are surely doing just that.Thanks For Visiting JV Sport Shots .Com’s Website And Viewing Our Latest Blog(s) / Page(s). We Would Really Appreciate It If You Would Leave Us A Comment Or Remark Below. This Helps Us Provide Great Sports Content; You Would Like To See In Future Posts.
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