5/24/18 5:35 am CST
Good morning, Tiger Fans,
Little things – a missed double play, a failed bunt attempt – proved costly in a sloppy thriller of an SEC Baseball Tournament game that ended 4-3 Gators. In this year’s first meeting of the two perennial baseball powerhouses, one would have been hard-pressed to recognize it as a rematch of last year’s championship series due to six combined errors in the game – four by Florida and two by LSU. That said, it wasn’t without its highlights. A great catch at the wall by Antoine Duplantis, a two-out dinger by Jake Slaughter, a run-saving play by Brant Broussard, and a season-best performance by Cam Sanders on the mound gave Tiger fans plenty to cheer about. But in the end, it was a defensive web-gem by Florida’s Jonathan India, and a couple of missed opportunities by LSU, that sent LSU to the loser’s bracket of the tournament where they’ll face South Carolina at approximately 1 p.m. CT today, thirty minutes after the conclusion of the 9:30 a.m. CT contest between Georgia and Ole Miss. (See updated SEC Tournament bracket.)
Here’s a quick recap of how the it played out:
The Tigers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead when Jake Slaughter made Florida pay for a one-out error by ripping a two-run homer over the left field wall. The Tigers’ third run came when a second error by second baseman Blake Reese allowed Antoine Duplantis to reach first, a ball in the dirt allowed him to take second, and Daniel Cabrera’s RBI single brought him home.
Like outstanding teams usually do, Florida responded quickly. A single and a walk in the bottom of the inning put Hilliard in a two-on, no-out jam, and an RBI single put the Gators on the board. A groundout that followed scored the Gator’s second run and would have likely scored another if not for an outstanding play by Brandt Broussard. That defensive gem would go for naught as Florida’s Jonathon India ripped an RBI single through the gap to make it a 3-3 game.
The game would stay knotted up until the bottom of the fifth. After a walk and a one-out single put runners at first and second, a tailor-made inning-ending double play ball was hit to Slaughter at third, but he slipped when stepping on the bag and was only able to get one out. An RBI single followed to give Florida a 4-3 lead, and that would be all for Hilliard. Cam Sanders entered in a difficult situation with two outs and two on and got out of the jam with a groundout.
The Tigers missed a golden opportunity in the eighth when Bain drew a leadoff walk and advanced on hot-hitting Cabrera’s single. That put LSU in an ideal situation to advance the runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. Nick Coomes tried to do just that; only he popped up instead for an easy out. An ensuing groundout by Jordan would have scored a run had the bunt been executed, but instead, it advanced the runners into scoring position with two outs. Then came the key play of the game when Florida third baseman Jonathan India, who had committed two uncharacteristic errors earlier, reminded folks why he’s the SEC’s Player of the Year by robbing Slaughter of a hit that would have likely given LSU the lead.
Ma’Khail Hilliard got the start on the mound for the Tigers and gave up four runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings of work. It wasn’t a great night for the young freshman working on the biggest stage of his career, but it was for bullpen pitcher Cam Sanders who relieved him in the fifth. Sanders would go on to log 3.1 scoreless innings of one-hit ball, which not only kept LSU within striking distance but also saved several arms for today’s game. (See complete box score.)
Unfortunately, one pitcher who will not be available today is former Game 3 starter AJ Labas. According to reports, Coach Mainieri indicated last night that Labas is still experiencing shoulder soreness. As of now, there’s been no indication as to who will get the start, though I would consider Caleb Gilbert a strong candidate.
Now for a trio of football tidbits to close out today’s daily dose:
• The Tiger Nation is still buzzing over the addition of graduate transfer quarterback Joe Burrow and what it could mean for the 2018 season, and understandably so. Everything I’ve read and seen about him is awfully impressive, including this newly posted YouTube video of every throw Burrow made as a freshman when he played in mop-up duty during Ohio State’s big win over No. 10 Nebraska. Burrow went 6-for-6 with 62 passing yards, 13 rushing yards, and a rushing touchdown in the game. What’s even more impressive than the numbers alone is his poise in the pocket and his quick, accurate throws. With LSU’s pass protection being among its biggest concerns in 2018, those attributes are great to see in a potential starting quarterback.
• Sometimes its easy to forget that student-athletes are students first, and athletes second. As a means of keeping this reality in check, the NCAA monitors academic performance and retention among its member schools and calculates an annual Academic Progress Rate, which is often used to create incentives for coaches. Last year, LSU’s APR improved 18 points to 959, meeting the national average for other public institution football teams, according to NCAA documents. This year LSU’s rate improved to 963, which means Ed Orgeron gets a $75,000 bonus, according to a tweet by USA Today's Steve Berkowitz. According to Berkowitz, Orgeron gets the bonus if the team’s single-year APR is 960 or higher.
• Lastly, here’s a heads up about our annual 100-Day Countdown to Game Day, which, believe it or not, gets underway tomorrow. We have topics chosen for 100-96 but we invite you to send suggestions for all the other numbers, especially 95-90. Your help is appreciated!
Have a great day, Tiger Fans.