5/24/16 5:45 am CST
Good morning, Tiger Fans, it’s Game Day!
After concluding the regular season with a series win over then No. 1 Florida, LSU is a consensus top-10 team in the final regular season polls. LSU checks in as high as No. 7 in the USA Today Coaches poll and as low as No. 8 according to Perfect Game and D1Baseball.com. As for LSU’s RPI (Rating Percentage Index), Warren Nolan and D1Baseball have the Tigers at No. 8, while Boyd’s World has them at No. 10.
The Tigers will begin SEC Tournament play today with a single-elimination contest against Tennessee tonight at 8 pm CT. The game will be televised by the SEC Network and streamed online via SECN+, accessible on ESPN3.com and via the WatchESPN app.
In what came as a big surprise to many folks including myself, Coach Mainieri announced yesterday that Jake Latz will get the start on the mound for the Tigers tonight. By now most of you know the story on Latz, but for those of you who do not here’s the quick version. Latz, a 4.0 student and teammate of fellow Tiger Michael Papierski at Lemont High in Illinois, turned down a lot of money from the Toronto Blue Jays to become a member of LSU’s top-ranked 2014 signing class. Unfortunately, his highly-anticipated debut as a Tiger pitcher was delayed for nearly two years due to a stress fracture in his elbow that caused him to undergo surgery in November. Latz made his collegiate debut against McNeese State on April 12, starting and lasting 1.1 innings, but immediately afterward he felt discomfort in his elbow. He gave it another go against Northwestern State and again last Saturday against Florida where he looked great, striking out the side in his one inning of work while demonstrating a filthy curveball. More importantly, Latz felt fine afterward. In tonight’s outing, I wouldn’t expect him to go very deep into the game, but I’m awfully excited that he’s progressed enough to be put into this situation. If he can build on Saturday’s outstanding outing, Latz will be an extremely valuable addition to LSU’s pitching rotation in postseason play.
As for Mainieri’s decision to save Alex Lange for tomorrow’s game against the Gators should LSU win tonight, the coach insisted that he is not looking past Tennessee. Instead, Mainieri says the decision was made with Lange’s health in mind. In this article by the Advocate, Mainieri is quoted as saying, “Our No.1 priority, quite frankly, is to make sure Alex Lange remains healthy throughout his career and as well as throughout the rest of this year. We decided the most prudent thing for his sake, was to give him at least five days rest and wanted the normal side work, that type of thing.” When LSU squared off against Tennessee in Knoxville a week and a half ago, the Tigers swept the series and scored 21 runs in the last two games. The first game, however, was a nail-biter that ended 2-1 after being tied 1-all in the 8th inning. In that contest, Lange looked outstanding through eight innings of four-hit ball.
In other baseball news, congratulations are in order for several Tigers who were honored with All-SEC recognition. Shortstop Kramer Robertson and Designated Hitter Bryce Jordan made the first team, while second baseman Cole Freeman made the All-Defense team. Right fielder Antoine Duplantis made the All-Freshman team.
• Robertson is batting .321 this season with 17 doubles, two triples, one homer and 52 runs scored. He’s also the Tigers’ leading hitter in SEC games, batting .363 with nine doubles, one triple, one homer, 19 RBI and 26 runs. Defensively, he’s been remarkable at shortstop where he has committed only eight errors.
• Jordan is hitting .316 with six doubles, five homers, 30 RBI and 36 runs. His .447 on-base percentage is third best in the SEC and is aided by the fact that he’s been hit by a pitch 23 times. (Ball magnet!).
• Duplantis is batting a team-high .335 with six doubles, five triples, two homers, 35 RBI and 41 runs. He was also named the SEC Freshman of the Week yesterday after his performance in the Tigers’ four games last week.
• Freeman has a .973 fielding percentage with only seven errors at second base and is hitting .331 with six doubles, three triples, one homer, 23 RBI and 41 runs. He’s also No. 3 in the SEC in stolen bases with 24 and No. 7 in the league in on-base percentage (.436).
Now let’s switch gears to football and continue our series on LSU’s 2016 opponents by picking up on Week 8. If you missed Weeks 1-7, you can find them here.
Week 8 - Oct. 22 Ole Miss
Now we’re entering the portion of the season where LSU’s 2015 campaign went off the tracks. Fortunately, the Tigers get Ole Miss before they play Alabama this year with a bye week in between those encounters. If all went goes well against Southern Miss the week before, as expected, the Tigers should enter this matchup somewhat rested. This will come in handy in defending the Rebels’ great athletes on the perimeter with Chad Kelly orchestrating the offense once again. Last season, Kelly was phenomenal, leading the SEC in passing with 310 passing yards per game and totaling 31 passing touchdowns (ninth in the nation). Ole Miss’ greatest recruiting class ever is gone now, but Kelly will still have weapons on the offensive side, including 2015 breakout Damore’ea Stringfellow, Quincy Adeboyejo, DeMarkus Lodge and Markell Pack, as well as newcomers A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf. Ole Miss is unproven in the running game, and the Rebels have struggled to produce a back capable of picking up yards between the tackles on a consistent basis in recent years. So in this contest, LSU’s strength will meet Ole Miss’ strength. The Tigers’ secondary will have its hands full with talented players on the perimeter and a gunslinger quarterback, but if any secondary has the ability to limit this passing offense, it’s LSU’s. As for the Tigers’ offense, LSU should benefit from Ole Miss’ loss of both Nkemdiche brothers, as well as their depleted linebacker corps. That opens the door for a healthy serving of Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice.
(LSU receives a bye in Week 9)
Week 10 - Nov. 5 vs. Alabama
Having lost five straight to their arch rival, what the Tigers need to do more than anything this year is reverse the Tide and hand the folks from Alabama a good ole fashioned whooping. The time has never been better. Alabama lost a good bit of its core on defense and has to replace a three-year starter at center. The Crimson Tide is also faced with needing to insert a new signal caller for the third year in a row. Nick Saban was able to overcome starting a new quarterback last year with the help of a stingy, experienced defense and Ryan Kelly keeping said quarterback off of the ground. Alabama will have neither advantage this season while LSU returns 18 starters. If he hasn’t done so by now, this is the game Brandon Harris will need to prove he can get the job done, though Alabama likely won’t have the same success it had stopping LSU’s running game as it did last season. Most of the players responsible for shutting down Leonard Fournette have departed, and because Saban’s recruiting has shifted ever so slightly toward stopping spread offenses in recent years, the Tigers’ physical rushing attack just might have the upper hand this time around. No matter the variables surrounding this game, you know Nick Saban will have his team ready to play and these two powerhouses will fight tooth and nail. They do it every year. This year, however, the Tigers will likely enter the game favored, and at home. 165 days and counting!
Now for a quick update on the football recruiting front:
• LSU picked up its 12th commitment for 2017 yesterday when defensive end Aaron Moffit gave his verbal pledge to the Tigers. Moffitt (6-4, 245, Catholic High) is the son of longtime LSU strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt, and naturally some people will assume that’s the reason he got the offer. The reality is he’s a good player in his own right whose recruitment really started to pick up after he helped lead the Class 5A Bears to their first-ever state championship. Moffitt chose LSU over offers from South Carolina, Purdue, California, Duke, Jackson State, San Diego State, and several in-state schools including UL-M, UL-Lafayette and Tulane. With his pledge, the Tigers’ 2017 recruiting class now contains 11 commitments and is all the way up to No. 5 in 247Sports’ national team recruiting rankings.
• LSU could pick up another commitment very soon as offensive guard Saahdiq Charles is expected to announce his school of choice sometime today. He is reportedly down to Mississippi State and LSU, and all signs point to him choosing the Tigers.
• LSU quarterback commit Lowell Narcisse threw for four touchdowns during his St. James High School spring game. Here are video highlights for those of you who want to see what kind of QB LSU will be getting.
• Of course, LSU also has a commitment from another big-time quarterback – Myles Brennan of Bay Saint Louis, MS. Yesterday Brennan reaffirmed his commitment to LSU on Twitter, which was good to see considering it came on the heels of him receiving an offer from Ole Miss.
Lastly, as many of you have heard by now, there’s some sad news to pass along about LSU’s beloved live Tiger mascot, Mike VI. According to a news release by LSU, doctors say the cancer is inoperable and incurable. A tumor on the right side of Mike’s nose will be treated at Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center with a highly sophisticated form of radiation therapy called “Stereotactic radiotherapy,” or SRT. What makes the news even sadder is that even with the treatment, Mike is not expected to survive more than another year or two. Bon courage, Mike. The Tiger Nation is praying for you!