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2/16/17 5:45 am CST

Good morning, Tiger Fans,

We’ll start today’s update with some concerning news on the football front. In a statement released by LSU yesterday afternoon, the school announced that outside linebacker/defensive end Arden Key is taking some time off from football for personal reasons. Here’s the full release:

LSU’S KEY TO TAKE LEAVE FROM FOOTBALL FOR PERSONAL REASONS
 
BATON ROUGE – LSU head coach Ed Orgeron issued the following statement on outside linebacker/defensive end Arden Key on Wednesday:
 
“In consultation with our staff and his family, Arden Key has decided to take some time away from football for personal reasons. We fully support Arden in his decision and look forward to welcoming him back home to the Tiger family at the appropriate time.”
 
Orgeron and Key will have no further comment on the matter. Orgeron asked that fans and members of the media respect the privacy of Key as this is a personal matter.

I can’t say what this is about or when Key might be back, but here’s hoping and praying that he gets his personal matter resolved quickly and can return to the field soon. As one of the most talented pass rushers I’ve ever seen, Key is coming off a spectacular sophomore season in which he set the program’s single-season record with 12 sacks. His football future is as bright as can be, and I sure hope he’s able to make the most of it. I am encouraged by the fact that Key remains enrolled in school and by an LSU tweet that states he remains on the team.

Switching gears to baseball… The No. 2 Tigers’ highly-anticipated 2017 season is set to get underway tomorrow night and I can hardly wait. To help get you prepared for what should be a very enjoyable weekend, I’ve put together the following list of things to watch for in this weekend’s opening series.

What to Look For in LSU Baseball’s Season-Opening Weekend

Aggression on the Bases
LSU has been an aggressive base-running team for several years, but seemed to be even more aggressive the last two years when Andy Cannizzaro was the team’s hitting coach. In fact, last year the team led the league in steals (95) and stolen base attempts (137). With Cannizzaro no longer there (remember, he’s the head coach at Mississippi State now), will this Tiger team still be as aggressive on the base paths? Considering that speedsters Cole Freeman, Kramer Robertson and Antoine Duplantis are all back, my guess is they will.  

Designated Hitter
The recent season-ending knee injury to Bryce Jordan, who was projected to start as the Tigers’ designated hitter, makes the DH position among the most intriguing heading into tomorrow’s season opener. So who steps up in Jordan’s place? Well, one obvious candidate is senior Jordan Romero who hit nine home runs last year and led the team with a slugging percentage of .545, but he too suffered an injury this week when he reportedly rolled his ankle while running into second base upright rather than sliding. With Romero now questionable for the weekend, the two players most likely to see time in the DH role are freshman Mason Templet who is listed No. 2 at DH on the depth chart issued at Media Day, and senior Bryce Adams who has been knocking the cover off the ball in preseason practice.  

Duplantis in Center
After an incredible freshman season in which he started every game and batted .327, former Lafayette High standout Antoine Duplantis is making the transition from right field to center field this season. In doing so, Duplantis will become the third Lafayette native in the last six seasons to man LSU’s centerfield position, following Saint Tomas More greats Mikie Mahtook and Andrew Stevenson. Duplantis quickly became one of my favorite players last year, not only because he hails from my hometown, but because of his competitive nature and his indescribable “it factor” that makes him such a baller. How he handles the transition to centerfield and whether he can avoid the proverbial “sophomore slump” at the plate will be things to watch.

Freshmen in Key Roles
LSU returns as veteran-rich a team as it’s had in years, but that won’t prevent four very talented freshmen from playing big roles. Two of the four are infielders Josh Smith and Jake Slaughter who will start at third base and first base, respectively. These players not only give LSU one of its most athletic all-around infields ever, but should give LSU some extra pop at the plate. Two other freshmen to look for are  pitchers Eric Walker and Zach Hess. Walker, a 6-foot, 172-pound right-hander, will get the start on Sunday. Walker doesn’t have exceptional size or an overpowering fastball, but what he does have is great poise and “pitchability.” At 6-foot-6, 216 pounds, Hess is a different kind of pitcher. Whereas Walker relies on a calm, cool demeanor and precise control, Hess has been described as a very emotional competitor with a fiery fastball that reaches the mid 90s and a knockout slider to boot. Coach Mainieri has reportedly said that Hess might get an inning of action this weekend before making his first start Wednesday against Hofstra.

Junior Alex Lange
Freshman Alex Lange was phenomenal. In fact, he was nearly perfect as he compiled a 12-0 record with a 1.97 ERA and earned first-team All-America honors. Sophomore Alex Lange was very good too, as evidenced by his 8-4 record and 125 strikeouts, though he obviously took a small step back from his stellar freshman campaign. The question is, will Junior Alex Lange return to freshman form? While that might be asking too much, the following comments from Coach Mainieri during last month’s Media Day provide reason to think he might: “If he never won another game, threw another pitch, he’s already had a remarkable career here at LSU. But I think this year is going to be his best year.” Mainieri went on to say, “I watched him throw a bullpen a week ago, it was the best bullpen I’ve ever seen him throw. When Alan Dunn told him he wanted a fastball in what we call the 1 spot, which is a fastball down and away on the knees, I mean, he was hitting that glove. When he wanted to go inside, he was hitting the glove. He was throwing his curveball for strikes. He just looked very confident and better than I’ve ever seen him look.”

We’ll get to see just how much improved Lange is and what this Tiger team is made of tomorrow night at 7 p.m. when LSU takes on Air Force at The Box. If you’re not able to make it out to the game, get your computer, smart phone and/or streaming devices ready as the game will be broadcast online via SECN+, accessible at WatchESPN.com and via the WatchESPN app.

Here is a list/timeline of events planned for this weekend in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.

One more baseball tidbit: LSU coach Paul Mainieri said that junior outfielder Greg Deichmann practiced with the team yesterday afternoon after suffering a fractured cheekbone last Friday. Deichmann experienced no problems during practice, and if he is cleared by doctors on today, he will be able to play in tomorrow’s season opener versus Air Force.

In softball news, big congratulations to junior pitcher Carley Hoover for throwing the second no-hitter of her career in the Tigers’ 5-0 win over Louisiana Tech last night. Along the way, Hoover struck out 11 Lady Techsters in a 115-pitch outing. Offensively, the Tigers collected 10 hits on the night and were led at the plate by Bailey Landry who went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and Sahvanna Jaquish who went 2-for-2 with two RBIs and a pair of walks. With the win, LSU improved to 5-1 on the young season. For more on the game including video highlights, see this article on LSUSports.net.

Lastly, the LSU women’s basketball team is set for a rematch against the No. 23/24 Texas A&M Aggies as the two squads meet tonight for the annual Play4Kay “Pink” game. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m., at the Maravich Center. LSU lost to A&M in a thriller a few weeks ago, 52-54. The first 500 fans to arrive for tonight’s game will receive a pair of pink socks. Fans wearing pink will receive admission for just $2. There also will be a special survivors’ parade at halftime. Play4Kay is the grassroots fundraising initiative of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, a charitable organization committed to being a part of finding an answer in the fight against women’s cancers. To date, the Fund has allocated more than $5 million towards the cause. To donate, please visit: Play4Kay.org.


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2/15/17 5:40 am CST

Good morning, Tiger Fans,

On Valentine’s Day, Cupid was cruel to the LSU men’s basketball team. With a 96-76 loss at Ole Miss, the Tigers extended their losing streak to 12 games. LSU followed its collapse against Arkansas last Saturday with a similar meltdown last night, though the meltdown came much later in the contest. After leading by double-digits in the second half, LSU folded under pressure and allowed Ole Miss to score the last 17 points of the game. 

Here’s a recap of yet another frustrating Tiger loss:

Picking up where they left off against Arkansas, the Tigers attacked the paint early and often with Antonio Blakeney and Skylar Mays pulling off some nice finishes at the rim. Blakeney carried the Tigers in the first half, scoring 13 points (nine of which came from 3-pointers) in the first seven minutes of action. The Tigers and Rebels swapped leads 10 times in an extremely competitive first half. LSU went on an  8-0 run at one point, but Ole Miss made runs of its own with 52 percent shooting from the field. Ole Miss got the upper hand when LSU missed five of six shots, most of which came from behind the arc. LSU countered Ole Miss’ zone with long-range shooting, and it provided mixed results.  Though LSU made 55 percent of its shots in the half, the Tigers hit just five of its attempted 13 3-point shots in the half. Thankfully for the Tigers, Ole Miss wasn’t much better with 6-of-14 shooting from behind the arc. An 8-1 run toward the end of the half gave LSU a 47-44 advantage going into halftime. Aiding LSU in that run was a questionable offsetting foul call involving Blakeney and an Ole Miss player. The call gave LSU two technical free throws and possession, which ended in a 3-point play. A scorching hot Blakeney led the way with 22 points in the half.

LSU opened the second half with an 8-0 run that expanded its lead to 11. It took Ole Miss nearly four minutes to score its first points of the second half. While both teams shot at a high percentage in the first half, LSU and Ole Miss struggled from the field in the second. Both teams made only 25 percent of their shots in the opening eight minutes of the half before shots began to fall for the Rebels. Ole Miss went on a 16-5 run to take its first lead of the half with six minutes remaining. Ole Miss never looked back, expanding its lead to 20 down the stretch. 

At this point, it’s hard to get much enjoyment out of watching this team, even when Blakeney drops 29 on an opponent. And Blakeney, by the way, didn’t take a shot in the last seven minutes of the game. That’ll leave you speechless, shaking your head, folks.

LSU will hit the road again Saturday for another contest with Alabama. The Tigers will look for their second conference win of the season in a 2:30 p.m. tip on the SEC Network.

In football news, LSU is adding another member to its support staff as Greg McMahon is set to join the Tigers as a Special Teams Consultant. McMahon was Special Teams Coordinator for the Saints the past 11 seasons before he and several other assistants were fired after last season. At LSU, McMahon’s role will be similar to the one held by longtime NFL special teams coach Bobby April, who Coach Orgeron brought in to consult with Special Teams prior to LSU’s Citrus Bowl Game. This position is not to be confused with the position of Special Teams Coach, as consultants are not allowed to coach on the field. As of now, LSU is not able to hire a full-time Special Teams Coach since the staff is maxed out with nine assistant coaches already, but if the NCAA approves a 10th assistant coach, as it is expected to do this April, McMahon would certainly be a great candidate for the position. Counting McMahon, the Tigers have recently added three support staff members. Last week it was learned that Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada brought two offensive analysts with him from Pittsburgh: Dave Bucar and Matt Tomsho.

With LSU’s highly anticipated baseball season set to start in just two days, I’ve got a few tidbits to share with you including the continuation of our mini-countdown to game day. In fact, today’s countdown feature will be the last of its kind as there is no No. 1 on this year’s team. No. 2 however, is a player who is expected to have a big season this year – starting catcher Michael Papierski. 

As a sophomore last year, Papierski emerged as the Tigers’ starter behind the plate, where he proved to be an outstanding defensive catcher with a rocket for an arm. On offense, however, Papierski didn’t have a spectacular year as he finished the season with a .242 average. What’s interesting to note is that Papierski batted most of his first two seasons as a switch hitter then switched to hitting right-handed only for the final 13 games of the season. During that period, his hitting improved so much that he, Coach Mainieri, and former hitting coach Andy Cannizaro decided Papierski would bat only right-handed this season. If this change works out as expected and Papierski can build on his outstanding postseason run last season when he hit .364 in LSU’s six NCAA regional and super regional contests, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior could be just as big an asset at the plate as he is behind it.

In other baseball news, D1Baseball released its Power Rankings for collegiate starting pitchers yesterday and LSU’s Alex Lange came in at No. 6 in the nation and No. 4 in the SEC. The three league pitchers ranked higher than Lange were Vanderbilt’s Kyle Wright, Florida’s Alex Faedo, and Missouri’s Tanner Houck at numbers 1, 2, and 3, respectively. LSU’s Jared Poché checked in at No. 55. Here’s D1Baseball’s complete rankings of starting pitchers.   

If you’re like me, you don’t need any help getting pumped about opening weekend being just around the corner, but you might find that this video only adds to the excitement. In it, Coach Mainieri talks about the weekend and what it means to him to be able to honor the military men and women who serve our country through this three game series. LSU opens the season against Air Force, then plays Army on Saturday and Air Force again on Sunday. I think this is a great way to celebrate our military men and women and show our appreciation for all they do. 

One brief football tidbit in closing: Last week it was reported that LSU’s spring game would be a televised night contest, and yesterday LSU confirmed the news in the following press release.

LSU SPRING GAME TO KICKOFF AT 7 P.M. ON APRIL 22

BATON ROUGE – For the first time since the mid-1990s, LSU’s annual spring football game will be played at night, head coach Ed Orgeron announced.

Details for events and activities that day on campus leading up to the spring game are still being planned, however kickoff for the contest is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Tiger Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

LSU opens its first spring practice under Orgeron on Saturday, March 11. The Tigers practice a total of 15 times during the spring, culminating with the National L Club Spring Game on Saturday, April 22.

The last time LSU played a spring game at night came in 1995 when the Tigers had a 6 p.m. kickoff under first-year coach Gerry DiNardo.

More details about this year’s spring game will be released as they become available.

Lastly, thanks to all of you who read and commented on the Q&A with Mike Detillier on LSU football that I posted Monday and yesterday. If you missed, either of the two installments, you can check them out using these links: Part I | Part II

Reader Comments: Scott, here’s a good read by Fox Sports to share with your readers: 72 hours inside Ed Orgeron’s LSU war room on the race to Signing Day



 

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