6/26/17 5:22 am MST
Good morning, Tiger Fans,
This is Scott, checking in from Glenwood Springs, Colorado, happy to report that Day 3 of my vacation was much better than Days 1 and 2. I spent the day reading, sleeping, bike riding with the family, and playing bongos for a reunion singalong until deep into the night. In other words, I was completely disconnected from the latest happenings in LSU sports. Thankfully, my man Mark Towery prepared the following thorough report to keep us abreast on the latest news and get us pumped for the big day ahead.
The moment we’ve been waiting and hoping for all season is here, as the Tigers will clash with the Florida Gators tonight at 6 p.m. CT in Game 1 of the CWS Finals. The contest will be televised by ESPN and streamed online by WatchESPN, accessible at WatchESPN.com and via the Watch ESPN app. The game will also be carried on the LSU Sports Radio Network, including 98.1 FM. As a result of coin flips, LSU will be the home team in tonight’s game, as well in Game 3, if necessary. Also worth noting, the players have elected to wear purple jerseys in all the Championship games.
Head coach Paul Mainieri announced yesterday that senior right-hander Russell Reynolds (1-1, 8.59 ERA, 14.2 IP, 11 BB, 12 K) will get the start tonight on the mound tonight. “We’re going to count on Russell’s experience as a fifth-year senior,” Mainieri said. “He’s pitched very well the last few times out, and we feel like he gives us the best chance to get us off to a good start.” In addition to pitching a shutout inning in LSU’s 13-1 loss to Oregon State last Monday, the Baton Rouge native has pitched 1.2 scoreless innings in his last three relief appearances. Reynolds is considered to be one of the most popular guys on the team, and I expect the team to rally defensively around him. Barring a last-minute change, it appears Florida will start Brady Springer (8-5, 3.18 ERA, 119.0 IP, 30 BB, 117 K).
If Reynolds gets into trouble early, the Tigers will likely go with the “Johnny Wholestaff” approach that we’ve seen during midweek games. Obviously, this isn’t what most Tiger fans want to hear. But with freshman Eric Walker out the rest of the season with muscle fatigue and Caleb Gilbert having pitched on Saturday, Coach Mainieri really doesn’t have a lot of options. As for who else might pitch tonight, the likely candidates are freshman Nick Bush (1-1, 3.92 ERA, 20.2 IP, 19 BB, 20 K), freshman Matt Beck (1-0, 3.65 ERA, 24.2 IP, 11 BB, 21 K), junior Austin Bain (1-0, 4.74 ERA, 24.2 IP, 19 BB, 32 K) and senior Hunter Newman (1-1, 2.73 ERA, 26.1 IP, 18 BB, 26 K, 10 saves). Mainieri noted that freshman Todd Peterson (3-1, 4.19 ERA, 34.1 IP, 16 BB, 21 K) has a “tender arm” and “isn’t himself right now,” so I’d be surprised to see him pitch tonight. If the Tigers reach the 8th or 9th inning and are up by a slim margin, Mainieri will likely go to freshman closer Zack Hess, who has already successfully closed all four of LSU’s CWS victories to this point and has three saves.
You may recall that Bush, Peterson, Newman, and Beck allowed a whopping nine walks and 10 earned runs in just three innings in last Monday’s 13-1 loss at the hands of Oregon State. Obviously, if any of these pitchers play tonight, they will have to show much better control if LSU is to have a chance of winning Game 1 in this series. On the other hand, if the Tigers can find a way to win tonight, their chances of winning the championship are much higher with senior Jared Poché (12-3, 3.33 ERA, 108.0 IP, 38 BB, 73 K) expected to start Tuesday night and junior Alex Lange (10-5, 2.97 ERA, 48 BB, 150 K) expected to start Wednesday, if necessary.
Below are a few comparative notes on LSU and Florida based on their statistics through Saturday’s completed games:
• LSU holds considerable advantages in batting average (.291 vs .259), homers (68 vs 53), slugging percentage (.437 vs .380) and runs (478 vs 370). Still, catcher JJ Schwarz leads the Gators offense with solid numbers of 12 homers and 54 RBI, while right fielder Nelson Maldonado leads all Gators in batting average (.304) and has six homers and 32 RBI. Maldonado is the only hitter batting over .300, but four Gators have 32 RBI or more while five have slugging percentages of .429 or greater. The Gators also hold an edge in stolen bases (83 vs 76).
• Greg Deichmann (19) and Michael Papierski (11) lead the Tigers in homers, but three other Tigers have five or more homers (Zach Watson – 9, Kramer Robertson – 8 and Josh Smith – 5). Also, Beau Jordan (4) and Jake Slaughter (3) have each homered in the CWS. Oddly enough, Deichmann has not homered since hitting two on May 27th against South Carolina in the SEC Tournament.
• Strong pitching is what has carried the Gators to the CWS finals. Alex Faedo (9-2, 2.26 ERA, 123.2 IP, 42 BB, 157 K) leads Florida, but given his high pitch count (115) in Saturday’s victory over TCU, he will likely be on a limited pitch count in the Finals and likely won’t play until Wednesday if at all. Brady Springer starts Game 1 and Michael Byrne (4-5, 1.78 ERA, 70.2 IP, 15 BB, 88 K) will likely close any games that are close for the Gators. Jackson Kowar (12-1, 4.15 ERA, 106.1 IP, 44 BB, 84 K), who suffered his first loss against TCU on Friday, could possibly be a starter on Tuesday or Wednesday.
• After struggling with control issues in the regional opener and super-regional final, Jared Poché has stepped up in a huge way in the CWS with two victories in 10 and two-thirds innings, allowing just three earned runs in the process. One of the keys to his success has been limiting free passes, as he has only issued two walks in the CWS thus far. Lange rebounded from his struggles in the CWS opener against Florida State by firing seven and one-third innings and holding Oregon State to just one run in Friday’s 3-1 victory over the Beavers.
• One of the main statistical advantages for the Gators is ERA (3.49), although LSU’s is just a bit higher at 3.57. LSU has actually allowed fewer hits per nine innings (7.57 vs 8.68), but one of the Gators’ main pitching strengths is control, evidenced by the fact they’ve only walked 215 batters this season. By contrast, LSU is much higher at 264, but the good news is that LSU has shown much better control in its last three wins, walking just three batters vs. Florida State and six combined in its two victories over Oregon State. The Tigers issued a highly uncharacteristic 12 walks in their 13-1 loss last Monday against Oregon State.
• After struggling with five uncharacteristic errors in the Tigers’ opening round victory over Texas Southern in the regional opener, LSU has committed just four errors in their last nine games, including just three errors in five games here at the CWS (two of those were in the 13-1 loss to Oregon State). With both teams playing so well defensively, even just one error could be the difference in a series that will likely be low-scoring based on each team’s pitching.
• Speaking of low-scoring games, manufacturing runs could be a critical factor in this series. While LSU holds a slight advantage in sacrifice flies (37 vs 35), the Tigers hold a commanding 41 to 24 advantage in sacrifice bunts. In fact, Beau Jordan had a critical bunt squeeze RBI in last Friday’s 3-1 victory over Oregon State.
Football recruiting continues, and Tiger commits seem to be coming in almost daily. LSU received its 21st commitment yesterday when three-star tight end Zach Sheffer (6-3, 230) chose the Tigers over offers from Auburn, Tennessee, Michigan, and Ohio State among others. A Ponte Vedra Beach (Fla.) native, Sheffer is rated as the 26th best tight end nationally according to 247Sports. Sheffer’s commitment marked LSU’s seventh in eight days, which includes five for the 2018 class and two for the 2019 class.
We are now down to 68 days until LSU’s season opener vs BYU at NRG Stadium on September 2nd, so let’s look at a former special Tiger who wore No. 68 – Josh Dworaczyk. Besides having one of the most difficult last names to spell and pronounce, Dworaczyk is one of the few Tigers who had a six-year career. In LSU’s National Championship season of 2007, Dworaczyk redshirted as a true freshman, and in the Tigers’ undefeated regular season and SEC championship season of 2011, Dworaczyk suffered a season-ending knee injury during fall camp. In between those seasons (2008-2010), Josh played in 38 games with 26 starts at left guard.
As a sixth-year senior in 2012, Dworaczyk was named a permanent team captain and made the challenging switch from left guard to left tackle in the middle of the season. Despite the previous year’s injury, Josh proved to be highly durable for the 10-3 Tigers as he played every offensive snap in nine of LSU’s 13 contests. After playing just nine snaps at Florida the previous week, Dworaczyk played all 81 offensive snaps at home against No. 3 South Carolina, a game LSU prevailed in a challenging 23-21 victory. You can see Josh at left tackle in several of these highlights of that exciting win. Afterward, Les Miles made his famous “Tiger Stadium, where opponents’ dreams come to die” quote, and here’s hoping that holds 100% true in 2017!
For his career, Dworaczyk played in 50 games with 36 starts and was a member of a National Championship team, two SEC title teams, and 63 victories. According to his LinkedIn profile, Josh currently resides in Baton Rouge and works as a Sales and Operations Manager at Integrity Rentals and Solutions. Here’s wishing the former great Tiger all the best in his future endeavors.
Enjoy your day folks, and stay tuned for tomorrow’s recap of what should be a great game tonight. Geaux Tigers!