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2/20/18 5:30 am CST

Good morning, Tiger Fans,

After losing its opening series to Notre Dame, two games to one, LSU has dropped considerably in the weekly polls. The Tigers fell five spots in Collegiate Baseball’s rankings (15), four spots in Perfect Game’s (16), five spots in Baseball America’s (22), and seven spots in D1 Baseball’s (23). LSU’s next weekend opponent, the Texas Longhorns (2-1), came in as high at No. 14 and as low as No. 21. Of course, LSU can’t think ahead to Texas with a powerful (though unranked) UNO team (2-1) coming to town tomorrow. Remember, the Privateers beat LSU twice last year.

Since we didn’t do a mail call this week and probably won’t be doing them often during baseball season, I thought this would be a good time to answer one question I was asked a lot yesterday. It goes something like this: With all of LSU’s starting pitchers struggling over the weekend, is there any hope for the season? Well, I’m here to tell you there is hope. I think it’s safe to say that Zach Hess and Caleb Gilbert are better than they showed. We know that from last year. And let’s not forget that three of LSU’s best pitching signees have yet to pitch. The staff is high on Cam Sanders who'll make his debut tomorrow (remember he’s the one Mainieri said reminds him of Aaron Nola), and there’s also Nick Storz and AJ Labas who are nursing injuries and should be available before the start of SEC play. Those three were among the most highly regarded pitchers signed last year. There’s also reason to be encouraged by the improvement of veteran Matthew Beck who looks nothing like he did last year and seems to me to be a candidate to move into a starting role. His five strikeouts and no walks in 2.2 scoreless innings of one-hit work was impressive, as was his low 90s velocity. Then there’s freshman Trent Vietmeier whose debut was quite impressive with 3.2 scoreless innings of 2-hit ball with four strikeouts and no walks. The point is, there are several options for Mainieri to explore and reasons to believe that things will get better.

As for LSU’s hitting and defense, there are reasons to believe they should improve too. First of all, the hitting wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed. LSU put the barrel on the ball more than the stats would indicate but many times hit the ball right at defenders. Such is the game of baseball. Still, I know that’s not much consolation. What should be a bit encouraging though is the prospect of catcher Hunter Feduccia swinging the bat soon. He could be a difference maker at the plate and behind it. In the preseason, Mainieri projected Feduccia as the cleanup hitter and starting catcher. Defensively, LSU wasn’t particularly crisp at third base and shortstop. We saw Mainieri turn to Chris Reid at the hot corner in Game 3, and if trouble persists on the left side we could soon see Hal Hughes inserted as well. Just like with pitching, there are options to explore, and I can’t wait to see how they play out. 

Turning to basketball… Following a clutch 64-63 victory, many Tiger fans are eagerly anticipating what the LSU men’s team will do in tonight’s follow-up performance against Vanderbilt at home. Riding high off Tremont Waters’ dazzling performance against Missouri, the Tigers enter tonight’s game with a legitimate chance to win its seventh conference game. With the SEC as strong as it’s been in quite a while, LSU is only two wins away from being .500 in the conference. That’s quite a turnaround from last year’s two-win season. But now’s not the time for reflection. LSU’s win against Missouri Saturday improved LSU’s RPI to 75 with SEC conference games against three teams ranked behind the Tigers remaining on the four-game regular season schedule. That means, aside from Mississippi State, LSU will likely be favored in every matchup remaining in the regular season. So if the team can go out and finish strong and have a nice showing in the SEC tournament, perhaps the Tigers can force the NCAA selection committee to take them into serious consideration. Even if LSU misses on the big dance, the Tigers can still record a strong NIT bid, but it all starts by beating a team the Tigers lost to 77-71 on the road earlier this season. In that loss to Vanderbilt, the Tigers rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second half to take a one-point lead with two minutes remaining. Here’s to hoping for a much quicker start at home. LSU and Vandy will tip-off at 8 p.m. on the SEC Network.

Related: For more on LSU’s NCAA Tournament chances, see this article by Cody Worsham of Tiger Rag.

In women’s basketball news, congratulations to LSU for checking in at No. 24 in the latest Associated Press poll, marking the first time the Lady Tigers (18-7, 10-4 SEC) have been ranked nationally since 2014 when they were No. 19. With two games remaining in the regular season, LSU’s 10 SEC wins already match its highest total the the 2014-15 season in which the Lady Tigers went 10-6 in conference play. Coach Nikki Fargas’ squad has won its last three SEC games (and six of its past seven) but will be challenged to keep that streak alive this Thursday when it faces No. 7 South Carolina in Columbia in what should be a great game. 

Props are also in order for the LSU gymnastics team. After posting back-to-back scores of 198 or higher, something never done before in the program’s prestigious history, LSU is now back to No. 2 in the latest polls. Senior Myia Hambrick remains the top gymnast in the nation on floor with an average of 9.964. Check this out: She’s totaled a 9.95 or higher in every meet this season and is on a streak of four-straight meets with a 9.975. Junior Sarah Finnegan has also been on a tear. She put together the best all-around performance in the nation over the weekend with a 39.775 on Friday night. D-D Breax’s Tigers return to action Friday at No. 15 Georgia for their third meet in a week. The meet between the Tigers and Bulldogs will be televised at 6 p.m. CT on the SEC Network. 

Two football tidbits in closing:

LSU sophomore Mannie Netherly is switching positions from wide receiver to cornerback, according to cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond. This news, which was made public in an interview with Coach Raymond during former Tiger Jacob Hester’s radio show, makes a lot of sense. Asyou can see on our way too early unofficial depth chart, LSU has only five scholarship cornerbacks on the roster but has 11 scholarship wideouts, not including Netherly. More on that in a subsequent report.

Five-star defensive tackle Faatui Tuitele (6-4, 300) of Honolulu, Hawaii, tweeted that he will be taking an unofficial visit to LSU this spring. Tuitele is the nation’s No. 2 DT, second only to Louisiana’s own Ishmael Sopsher of Amite. Tuitele is also planning on unofficially visiting Ohio State and Alabama this spring and hasn’t named an early leader. One thing LSU has going in its favor is JUCO transfer DT Braiden Fehoko who is also a native of Hawaii and has been encouraging Tuitele to join him in Tiger Town.  

Lastly, here’s some shocking news that just surfaced: According to a report from 247 Sports' David H. Murray, former LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizzaro, who just started his second season as Mississippi State’s head baseball coach, will be fired this morning with cause. The report says that University officials have yet to state what the cause is. Pitching coach Gary Henderson is reported to be named as Cannizaro's replacement for the remainder of the Bulldog’s 2018 season. 

That’s it for now, Tiger Fans. 19 days until spring football practice!





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2/20/18 5:30 am CST

Good morning, Tiger Fans,

After losing its opening series to Notre Dame, two games to one, LSU has dropped considerably in the weekly polls. The Tigers fell five spots in Collegiate Baseball’s rankings (15), four spots in Perfect Game’s (16), five spots in Baseball America’s (22), and seven spots in D1 Baseball’s (23). LSU’s next weekend opponent, the Texas Longhorns (2-1), came in as high at No. 14 and as low as No. 21. Of course, LSU can’t think ahead to Texas with a powerful (though unranked) UNO team (2-1) coming to town tomorrow. Remember, the Privateers beat LSU twice last year.

Since we didn’t do a mail call this week and probably won’t be doing them often during baseball season, I thought this would be a good time to answer one question I was asked a lot yesterday. It goes something like this: With all of LSU’s starting pitchers struggling over the weekend, is there any hope for the season? Well, I’m here to tell you there is hope. I think it’s safe to say that Zach Hess and Caleb Gilbert are better than they showed. We know that from last year. And let’s not forget that three of LSU’s best pitching signees have yet to pitch. The staff is high on Cam Sanders who'll make his debut tomorrow (remember he’s the one Mainieri said reminds him of Aaron Nola), and there’s also Nick Storz and AJ Labas who are nursing injuries and should be available before the start of SEC play. Those three were among the most highly regarded pitchers signed last year. There’s also reason to be encouraged by the improvement of veteran Matthew Beck who looks nothing like he did last year and seems to me to be a candidate to move into a starting role. His five strikeouts and no walks in 2.2 scoreless innings of one-hit work was impressive, as was his low 90s velocity. Then there’s freshman Trent Vietmeier whose debut was quite impressive with 3.2 scoreless innings of 2-hit ball with four strikeouts and no walks. The point is, there are several options for Mainieri to explore and reasons to believe that things will get better.

As for LSU’s hitting and defense, there are reasons to believe they should improve too. First of all, the hitting wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed. LSU put the barrel on the ball more than the stats would indicate but many times hit the ball right at defenders. Such is the game of baseball. Still, I know that’s not much consolation. What should be a bit encouraging though is the prospect of catcher Hunter Feduccia swinging the bat soon. He could be a difference maker at the plate and behind it. In the preseason, Mainieri projected Feduccia as the cleanup hitter and starting catcher. Defensively, LSU wasn’t particularly crisp at third base and shortstop. We saw Mainieri turn to Chris Reid at the hot corner in Game 3, and if trouble persists on the left side we could soon see Hal Hughes inserted as well. Just like with pitching, there are options to explore, and I can’t wait to see how they play out. 

Turning to basketball… Following a clutch 64-63 victory, many Tiger fans are eagerly anticipating what the LSU men’s team will do in tonight’s follow-up performance against Vanderbilt at home. Riding high off Tremont Waters’ dazzling performance against Missouri, the Tigers enter tonight’s game with a legitimate chance to win its seventh conference game. With the SEC as strong as it’s been in quite a while, LSU is only two wins away from being .500 in the conference. That’s quite a turnaround from last year’s two-win season. But now’s not the time for reflection. LSU’s win against Missouri Saturday improved LSU’s RPI to 75 with SEC conference games against three teams ranked behind the Tigers remaining on the four-game regular season schedule. That means, aside from Mississippi State, LSU will likely be favored in every matchup remaining in the regular season. So if the team can go out and finish strong and have a nice showing in the SEC tournament, perhaps the Tigers can force the NCAA selection committee to take them into serious consideration. Even if LSU misses on the big dance, the Tigers can still record a strong NIT bid, but it all starts by beating a team the Tigers lost to 77-71 on the road earlier this season. In that loss to Vanderbilt, the Tigers rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second half to take a one-point lead with two minutes remaining. Here’s to hoping for a much quicker start at home. LSU and Vandy will tip-off at 8 p.m. on the SEC Network.

Related: For more on LSU’s NCAA Tournament chances, see this article by Cody Worsham of Tiger Rag.

In women’s basketball news, congratulations to LSU for checking in at No. 24 in the latest Associated Press poll, marking the first time the Lady Tigers (18-7, 10-4 SEC) have been ranked nationally since 2014 when they were No. 19. With two games remaining in the regular season, LSU’s 10 SEC wins already match its highest total the the 2014-15 season in which the Lady Tigers went 10-6 in conference play. Coach Nikki Fargas’ squad has won its last three SEC games (and six of its past seven) but will be challenged to keep that streak alive this Thursday when it faces No. 7 South Carolina in Columbia in what should be a great game. 

Props are also in order for the LSU gymnastics team. After posting back-to-back scores of 198 or higher, something never done before in the program’s prestigious history, LSU is now back to No. 2 in the latest polls. Senior Myia Hambrick remains the top gymnast in the nation on floor with an average of 9.964. Check this out: She’s totaled a 9.95 or higher in every meet this season and is on a streak of four-straight meets with a 9.975. Junior Sarah Finnegan has also been on a tear. She put together the best all-around performance in the nation over the weekend with a 39.775 on Friday night. D-D Breax’s Tigers return to action Friday at No. 15 Georgia for their third meet in a week. The meet between the Tigers and Bulldogs will be televised at 6 p.m. CT on the SEC Network. 

Two football tidbits in closing:

LSU sophomore Mannie Netherly is switching positions from wide receiver to cornerback, according to cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond. This news, which was made public in an interview with Coach Raymond during former Tiger Jacob Hester’s radio show, makes a lot of sense. Asyou can see on our way too early unofficial depth chart, LSU has only five scholarship cornerbacks on the roster but has 11 scholarship wideouts, not including Netherly. More on that in a subsequent report.

Five-star defensive tackle Faatui Tuitele (6-4, 300) of Honolulu, Hawaii, tweeted that he will be taking an unofficial visit to LSU this spring. Tuitele is the nation’s No. 2 DT, second only to Louisiana’s own Ishmael Sopsher of Amite. Tuitele is also planning on unofficially visiting Ohio State and Alabama this spring and hasn’t named an early leader. One thing LSU has going in its favor is JUCO transfer DT Braiden Fehoko who is also a native of Hawaii and has been encouraging Tuitele to join him in Tiger Town.  

Lastly, here’s some shocking news that just surfaced: According to a report from 247 Sports' David H. Murray, former LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizzaro, who just started his second season as Mississippi State’s head baseball coach, will be fired this morning with cause. The report says that University officials have yet to state what the cause is. Pitching coach Gary Henderson is reported to be named as Cannizaro's replacement for the remainder of the Bulldog’s 2018 season. 

That’s it for now, Tiger Fans. 19 days until spring football practice!

2/19/18 5:25 am CST

Good morning, Tiger Fans,

With an 11-3 shellacking at the hands of Notre Dame, LSU baseball did something it hadn’t done since 1999 –  lose an opening weekend series in baseball. During yesterday’s game, I heard from a Twitter follower who asked whether this was a case of Notre Dame being really good or LSU being in “figure it out” mode and maybe not as good as we had thought. My answer is that Notre Dame played extremely well in every aspect of the game, but I think it’s more of the latter. Coach Mainieri said rather prophetically at this year’s Media Day that pitching is the name of the game in collegiate baseball. Well, that’s the area where LSU has the most to figure out. Get this: LSU’s starting pitching gave up 17 runs (16 earned) on 18 hits and 10 walks in 10.2 innings of work against the Irish. Obviously, if that isn’t improved dramatically it will be a very long season. That said, we’re only three games in, folks. Coach Mainieri, like Skip Bertman before him, has an outstanding track record of tinkering in the early season and making the adjustments necessary to finish strong. I expect him to do the same this year, though I’ll admit that the task looks more daunting than I had anticipated. 

In yesterday’s game, Todd Peterson got the start and looked good through three innings, then hit a wall in the fourth. That’s when the sophomore right-hander walked two of the first three batters he faced and then gave up a three-run homer to Eric Gilgenbach, a man who already had one homer in the series and would add a third, even bigger one later in the game. The Irish tacked on three more runs in the sixth after Gilgenbach singled and LSU reliever Daniel Cabrera walked the following batter. Devin Fontenot replaced Cabrera and, after a sacrifice which put runners on second and third for the Irish, gave up an RBI single followed by an RBI double to make it a 6-2 game. Notre Dame’s final four runs came on that aforementioned third homer by Gilgenbach, a grand slam in the top of the ninth off of Nick Bush.

LSU’s woes weren’t limited to pitching. LSU only collected five hits in the game for the second day in a row. 

Really, the only offensive highlights to speak of came from the Jordan twins who were spectacular all weekend. Bryce went 1-for-3 yesterday, while Beau went 2-for-2 with a double in the fifth and a two-run homer in the seventh that cut LSU’s deficit to three. LSU’s other run of the game came on Josh Smith’s sacrifice fly in the third inning which was set up by Bryce’s single, Beau’s walk, and a well-executed sac bunt from freshman Brandt Broussard who’s looked quite impressive so far. 

Here are the game’s video highlights and the complete box score.

Losing an opening series for the first time in 19 years is certainly a hard pill to swallow, but it should be noted that the last time that happened things ended up alright. Skip Bertman’s Tigers went on to win 41 games that year and reached the Super Regional. They won it all the following year, as they had the year before. Remember folks, baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. 

LSU will have an opportunity to gain some much-needed confidence this Wednesday when they face UNO before taking on a very good Texas team this weekend. Texas, by the way, won two of its three against UL-Lafayette this past weekend and is the school that Bertman’s Tigers lost to in that opening series back in 1999. 

While it wasn’t a good day in baseball, yesterday sure was a great one for LSU women’s sports. LSU gymnastics made history with its second straight score of 198 or higher. Its 198.175 was the highest in the nation so far this season. LSU women’s basketball improved to 18-7 (10-4 SEC) with a 62-57 win at Arkansas, highlighted by a career-high 19 points from Ayana Mitchell. And not to be outdone, LSU softball closed out the Purple & Gold Challenge with a 1-0 shutout win over Oregon State to remain undefeated at 10-0.

A couple of football tidbits in closing:

• Congratulations to LSU wide receiver signee Kenan Jones of Berwick for dominating the LHSAA State Indoor Track and Field Championships Saturday. Jones won all three jumping events in Division II, including the long jump (22'4"), the high jump (6'5") and the triple jump (46'3"). Being in the same signing class as five-star receivers Terrace Marshall and Ja’Marr Chase has kind of overshadowed what a tremendous get Jones is, but I predict this freakish athlete is going to be a special player for the Tigers.

• Three of LSU’s top targets for 2019 – CB Derek Stingley, Jr. of  Dunham School, QB Grant Gunnell of Houston, WR Devonta Lee of Amite – were named by SECCountry as top performers in this weekend’s Pylon 7-on-7 competition in New Orleans. A person I spoke to who was at the event described Stingley as “the real deal” and “extremely well put together.” Recruiting Analyst Jimmy Smith of nola.com took it a step further and called Stingley the best prospect to come out of Louisiana since Leonard Fournette. With cornerback being a huge need in LSU’s 2019 recruiting class, this young man is a must get. The good news is that LSU appears to be leading for this premier prospect who was once committed to LSU before opening up his recruitment.     

Have a great day, Tiger Fans.



 

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