5/27/16 5:55 am CST
Good morning, Tiger Fans,
The red-hot Tigers continued their winning ways yesterday with an impressive 6-2 win over No. 1 seed Mississippi State. The Tigers out-hit the Bulldogs 12-8, received solid pitching, and took advantage of three MSU errors to cruise to victory in a contest that lacked the level of late-inning drama we’ve come to expect from these Tigers.
Jared Poché got the start on the mound, survived a challenging first inning and then settled in to pitch brilliantly through six strong inning. In the seventh, his night was derailed by a miscommunication between Cole Freeman and Antoine Duplantis that allowed a ball to drop. The Bulldogs would go on to score two runs (one earned) in the frame before Parker Bugg entered with two outs and escaped a two-on jam with a huge strikeout. Bugg stayed on through the ninth and was sensational in earning his fourth save of the season.
Offensively, the Tigers were led by the unlikeliest of candidates – Mike Papierski. The sophomore catcher, who entered the game with a .208 average, drove in three runs with a sacrifice fly in the third and a clutch two-out, two-run single in the 7th. Antoine Duplantis also had a big night, going 3-for-4 with an RBI. Here’s the complete boxscore, and the following is what Coach Mainieri had to say about the contest.
“We had 12 hits today and faced one of the best pitchers in the league,” Mainieri said. “I thought Papierski had a great game, drove in three runs. Nobody works harder than Michael Papierski. He’s always the first guy to the field and the last guy to leave. He had a big base hit and got the big sacrifice fly with two strikes on him. That was huge. Sometimes in the season you go through ebbs and flows, some real peaks and some really big valleys. When you’re 18, 19 years old sometimes those things are hard to handle, and I think he’s handled them really well. He’s growing up as a man.”
With the win, the Tigers earned a day of rest today before returning to tournament action tomorrow at 3:30 CT. After playing 23 innings in back-to-back nightcaps, I’m sure the break will be just as welcomed by the Tigers as it will for this writer who’s not used to staying up so late. The Tigers’ next opponent will be the winner of today’s elimination game between Florida and Mississippi State.
One final baseball thought for the day: Last night’s win, the team’s 14th in 15 games, marked the fourth time in a week that LSU has defeated a team ranked No. 1 in at least one of the college baseball polls. There’s not a hotter team in America right now than the Fighting Tigers.
In softball news, LSU will continue its journey to the 2016 College World Series today at 2:00 when the Tigers begin Super Regional Play in Harrisonburg, Virginia against James Madison. Game two of the best-of-three series is set for 11 am CT Saturday, with the if-necessary third game taking place shortly after at approximately 2 pm. ESPNU will have coverage of today’s game, with the series shifting to ESPN for tomorrow’s first game. Game 3, if needed, would jump back to ESPNU. At stake in this best-of-three series is one of eight coveted spots in next week’s College World Series. The surging Tigers have gotten to this point by winning 18 of their last 20 games, including a three-game sweep of the Baton Rouge Regional last weekend. Here’s hoping the success carries on today, tomorrow and into Oklahoma City.
Believe it or not, LSU’s highly-anticipated 2016 football season is less than 100 days away. What that means, of course, is that it’s time for our 100-day countdown. Actually, truth be told, it was time to start the countdown yesterday at the 100-day mark, but in all the late night/early morning excitement of LSU’s 14-inning win over Florida, I completely forgot. (Sorry about that. I guess that’s what happens when I stay up past my bedtime.) So, what we’ll do today is kick things off with Numbers 100 AND 99. But first, I want to thank all of you who sent suggestions for topics to cover. Your input is helpful and appreciated. Keep it coming!
For number 100, let’s get things running with a look at the 100-yard interception return by Craig Loston vs. Mississippi State in the Tigers’ 37-17 victory back in 2012. The play came late in the game with Mississippi State inside the 10-yard line with an opportunity to make it a one-score game. That’s when Loston picked off Tyler Russell’s pass in the end zone and turned on the jets as he returned the ball the length of the field. I went back and re-watched a video of that play yesterday and was so amazed at Loston's explosiveness and speed that I took out my iPhone and timed how long it took for him to bring it to the house. According to my far-from-official timing, he covered the 100-yards in 10.9 seconds, and that's incredible considering he was in full pads and pulled up a bit at the end. I've added the video to our Media Gallery so you can relive the moment too.
One reason I picked that play for this year’s countdown is to recognize that explosive plays on the defensive side of the ball have steadily decreased over the last few years for the Tigers. Specifically, LSU’s interceptions have decreased from 18 in both 2011 and 2012 to 11 in 2013 and just 10 in both 2014 and 2015. Fumble recoveries have also declined, as the Tigers had just 7 last year after averaging 11.6 per season the five previous years. For the Tigers to return to the dominating defenses of years past, they will need to force more turnovers, and, of course, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few game-changing plays like Loston’s pick.
Now for number 99, let’s look back at an amazing 99-yard TD drive that beat Arkansas 31-27 in 2013. As many of you will recall, that play occurred with the Tigers trailing the Hogs 24-27 with only 1:49 remaining. Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger had just suffered a season-ending injury on a pass play that resulted in an incredible reception by Jarvis Landry. (You can see that completion at the 1:28 mark of this video). In comes true freshman Anthony Jennings from Marietta, Georgia, and what does he do? Well, he simply leads the Tigers on a 99-yard, game-winning drive to topple Arkansas 31-27. The drive culminated with a 49-yard touchdown pass from Jennings to fellow freshman Travin Dural with 1:15 to play, giving the Tigers not only the win but also a big dose of hope for the future.
After his lackluster season in 2014 and some off-the-field trouble that summer, Jennings lost the starting quarterback job to Brandon Harris last year and has since transferred. Now entering his second season as the full-time starter, Harris will be looked upon to consistently make critical plays with his arm and legs not unlike the ones Jennings displayed in that one drive against Arkansas.
As always, your comments and feedback are welcome. Don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts on the topics covered here, and keep the suggestions coming!