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!