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Scott Long Questions Lyn Rollins about LSU Baseball, April 30, 2014
Scott: Before we know it, the LSU baseball regular season will be behind us and we'll be looking ahead to postseason play. I figured now would be a good time to catch up with you and get your thoughts on what we've learned about this year's Tiger team. First, what is your overall impression of this team's strengths and weaknesses as compared to last year's team which won a historic 57 games?
Lyn: No team in SEC history has won more games than LSU did last year, and it's unlikely to happen again against such competition. You can compare that accomplishment to the 2011 LSU football team.
I believe this year's pitching staff is more versatile and deeper than in 2013. It's mind-boggling that one-third of LSU's regular-season wins will have been accomplished by shutout. However, the offense is not as accomplished, especially with quick-score capacity. The output of Andrew Stevenson – easily the most improved player from last season – has been remarkable, and he's established himself as one of the top hitters in the SEC. Stevenson and newcomers Connor Hale and Jake Fraley, who has delivered an impressive RBI total in part-time duty, have somewhat offset the lower batting averages of Alex Bregman, Christian Ibarra, Sean McMullen and others. I'm concerned about occasional base-running gaffes, and this team does not possess a legitimate base stealer. Effective use of the hit-and-run has helped move runners, and the Tigers bunt better than they did a year ago.
I haven't seen a defensive outfield (often all left-handed) the equal of LSU. This group has more range than Texas. Spectacular, Ninja-like plays almost have become routine occurrences. These don't appear in box scores or headlines, but they are often are game savers.
I believe LSU – despite winning every SEC series since being swept by Florida – has yet to play its best baseball. There are signs that the offense is awakening, and if last year's producers can find their way it would withdraw much pressure from the pitching staff.
Scott: Speaking of the pitching staff, the number one and two guys – Aaron Nola and Jared Poché – have been very good, as expected, and so has closer Joe Broussard. But, I have to admit that I'm concerned about Game 3 pitching. How do you see this LSU pitching staff holding up in postseason play?
Lyn: It's not ideal that a third starter has yet to take hold, but the committee approach has worked pretty well to this point. Still, it's necessary that a third, if not fourth, starter be identified. I believe Kyle Bouman remains the best candidate to fill that position. Kurt McCune, Alden Cartwright, Parker Bugg and Cody Glenn, despite his erratic season, could also emerge, and there seems to be growing confidence in Brady Domangue. In this era of reduced offense, it's absolutely necessary that pitchers throw strikes. LSU has plenty who do. Pitching coach Alan Dunn has done a marvelous job of developing and defining the staff, and I think LSU has options that many teams do not. No one should underestimate the brilliant performance of closer Joe Broussard, the fourth-year junior who did not pitch last year after Tommy John surgery. He and Aaron Nola must continue to have All-America seasons for LSU to advance in NCAA tournament play.
Scott: Overall, Aaron Nola has had an exceptional season, and it's clear to see that he is really something special. But with that said, last Friday Tennessee got to him. What, if anything, can we take away from that?
Lyn: Aaron Nola remains the pitcher that SEC opponents least want to face. Yes, the five earned runs he surrendered in his last start were the most of his career. I think we'll find out where he is after his performance against Texas A&M. There were no velocity problems against Tennessee, but his usual pinpoint control was missing. Mentally, he's as tough as a railroad spike. Remember that Paul Mainieri gave him a little extra rest late in the past two years, and he returned to top-drawer form. That's an option, although I've heard nothing about a tired arm. Nola at this point in the season is clearly one of the best five college pitchers in America. He'll have to continue to be that in post-season if LSU is to return to the College World Series. Pressure? Assuredly so, but he's built to deflect it.
Scott: With so much parity in the league, what do the Tigers need to do to secure a national seed again this year?
Lyn: I think LSU must win the SEC West and take at least two games – three would be even better – in the SEC Tournament to earn a national seed. A robust runner-up finish in the West and a minimum of three tournament victories also could do it, as would another SEC Tournament championship. Unexpected losses from LSU’s closest competitors never hurt.
Scott: And really, my previous question kind of assumes that LSU will be a regional host site, but I guess that could be assuming too much at this point, especially with UL-Lafayette playing so well. What are your thoughts on that? How big of a factor is geography in the selection of Regional sites?
Lyn: I earnestly hope that geography does not play a part in the selection of Regional sites. No weight should be given to where a team sits on a map. Regional sites should be awards for superior seasons, assuming the facilities meet NCAA requirements. As of today, both LSU and ULL are deserving.
Scott: Switching gears a bit, with the launching of the SEC Network just around the corner, what does that mean for Cox Sports Television in terms of coverage of LSU games? I know I speak for a lot of Tiger Fans when I say I hope to continue hearing you, Ben McDonald and Ronnie Rantz on the call.
Lyn: Thank you sincerely for the compliment. We truly enjoy our work on these telecasts. CST has superbly served as the exclusive regional home of televised LSU events for the past 11 years. The landscape of college sports on TV is changing, but there remains much to be settled. I think the picture will become much clearer within a few weeks. Stay tuned, literally.
Scott: Thank you, Lyn, for taking time out to answer these questions, especially on such a beautiful day when you could be spending your spare time working in the garden or wetting a line. By the way, how's your garden growing?
Lyn: Scott, I have the most beautiful patch of perfectly tilled earth you have ever seen. Unfortunately, cold, wet weather and my work schedule (that's a good thing!) have prevented me from timely planting. I'm late, but there will be a frenzy of garden activity within the next 72 hours. If nothing else it will make the rabbits happy. They have been leaving conspicuous signs of their displeasure where I trod. I may have to come calling on the Long garden with produce basket in hand until mine catches up.
Scott: And you would be most welcomed, my friend! Thanks again for answering my questions. I know the DandyDon readers will appreciate it.
Lyn Rollins is in his 12th season of working play-by-play for LSU events on Cox Sports Television, and he also announces Sun Belt Conference basketball and baseball and Southland Conference basketball. He has a decade of experience as the radio voice of Northwestern State University sports and several seasons of minor league baseball. Rollins has been voted Louisiana Broadcaster of the Year four times in the past seven years by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. He holds degrees in journalism from NSU and LSU but some time ago discovered it was easier to talk than type.
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