5/21/19 5:30 am CST
Good morning, Tiger Fans, it’s game Day!
Before getting to today’s big game in baseball, let’s kick things off with a bang, or should I say, a boom! Five-star power-forward Trendon Watford (6-9, 230) announced his commitment to LSU basketball yesterday, choosing LSU over his home-state Crimson Tide. Watford, the top-rated player in Alabama and the No. 4 power forward in the nation, will be an ideal replacement for Naz Reid, who is headed to the NBA. To see for yourself what all the fuss is about, check out Watford’s video highlights.
In this article by 247Sports, Watford said the main reason he chose LSU was the trust he has in the coaching and his close relationship with coach Will Wade and coach Bill Armstrong. He also said something else that caught the attention of Tiger Fans: “I feel like me with my leadership, they have a lot of guys coming back Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams and Javonte Smart, I feel like it’s a very seasoned team and I can come in and just be the player and person that I am.” What’s significant about that statement is that Mays and Williams have not yet publicly announced that they are coming back, but it sure sounds like Watford knows something. If Will Wade gets those guys back, and with the addition of Watford, the Tigers could be right back in the hunt next season. #BootUp
One more word about Watford: I’ve heard from lots of folks with connections to the Mountain Brook program where he comes from, and they all have nothing but great things to say about his character. Sounds like Coach Will Wade is getting a special player.
Turning to baseball, it’s do or die time for Coach Mainieri’s Tigers as they’re set to take on South Carolina tonight at 8 p.m. in an SEC Tournament elimination match. The game will be televised on the SEC Network and I’ll be tweeting score updates and occasional commentary for those of you who follow DandyDonLSU on Twitter.
Coach Paul Mainieri announced yesterday that freshman Cole Henry will get the start on the mound tonight, which is music to the ears of this Tiger Fan. Henry looked like a bona-fide SEC ace in his last start four weeks ago when he limited Florida to one run on four hits in 5.1 innings with no walks and a career-high 12 strikeouts. His strikeouts total was the most by an LSU pitcher in an SEC game since March 30, 2017, when Alex Lange recorded 12 Ks against Texas A&M. Henry hasn’t pitched since that time because of lingering arm soreness and will probably not be asked to go more than three innings tonight so that LSU can protect his arm and have him available early in the NCAA tournament.
While I know it’s not wise to think too far ahead, a win today would go a long way toward LSU being one of 16 schools selected to host a Regional host site. One look at the weekly polls demonstrates just how much of a “bubble” team LSU is at this point. After winning three-of-four games last week, LSU climbed three spots to No. 16 in D1 Baseball.com’s rankings and a whopping six spots to No. 16 in Baseball America’s top-25.
But back to the current task at hand, here’s a quick look at tonight’s opponent and LSU’s history in the SEC tournament. The Gamecocks are coming off a win over fourth-ranked Mississippi State, 10-8, in Starkville on the final day of the regular season to earn the final bid to the SEC Tournament. They lost that series two games to one, by a combined score of 43-19, but that Game 3 win tells you that they can’t be taken lightly.
South Carolina is 14th in the SEC in team batting average (.236) and its pitching staff ranks 14th in the SEC in team ERA (5.45). While that’s not all that impressive, here’s something that is: Their freshman right-handed reliever, Brett Kerry, is No. 10 in the league in individual ERA (2.62) and has 65 strikeouts and seven saves in 58.1 innings. LSU can’t afford to fall behind in this game and expect to come back strong against this guy.
SERIES RECORD VS. SOUTH CAROLINA:
LSU leads the overall series with South Carolina, 38-29-1. The Tigers and Gamecocks first met on the diamond in 1992, and since then LSU has won 16 of 25 games. Last year, the Gamecocks swept the Tigers in a three-game regular-season series in Columbia, before the Tigers posted a 6-4, 12-inning victory over South Carolina in the third round of the SEC Tournament. LSU is 7-2 all-time against South Carolina in SEC Tournament games. The Tigers have won five of their last seven SEC regular-season series versus the Gamecocks.
LSU IN THE SEC TOURNAMENT:
LSU has a league-best 85-42 (.669) all-time record in the SEC Tournament, and the Tigers own a conference-high 12 tournament titles. Alabama and Mississippi State are second behind LSU with seven tournament titles, and Ole Miss is third with six championships. LSU has won six of the past 11 SEC Tournament crowns, claiming the title in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2017 and is 35-8 under 13th-year coach Paul Mainieri in SEC Tournament games. Last year, LSU was 4-2 in the tournament and was defeated by Ole Miss in the championship game.
QUOTING PAUL MAINIERI:
“The SEC Tournament is a great event and something we always look forward to. There’s a lot of excitement attached to the opening game, since it is single elimination, and you have to win it if you want to stick around. Certainly, we will need to have success in the tournament in order to be considered as an NCAA Regional host site. We have a lot if impressive elements in our resume, including 19 wins against Top 50 RPI teams, the fifth-highest total in the country. We’re going to do our best to bring postseason baseball back home to our fans next week.”
In other baseball news, several congratulations are on order.
First, congratulations to three Tigers who earned All-SEC honors. Senior rightfielder Antoine Duplantis was named second-team All-SEC, junior outfielder Zach Watson was named to the SEC All-Defensive team for the second straight year, and right-handed pitcher Cole Henry was voted to the Freshman All-SEC squad.
Also, congratulations to freshman pitcher Landon Marceaux who was named SEC Baseball Co-Freshman of the Week. Marceaux, a product of Destrehan, La., delivered a brilliant outing on Friday to clinch LSU’s series win over Auburn. He pitched a career-high seven innings, limiting Auburn to one run on only two hits with no walks and a career-best seven strikeouts. Should LSU advance in the SEC tourney, look for Marceaux to get his next start this Thursday.
Swinging over to softball, Coach Beth Torina and her crew ran out of luck when Minnesota beat Georgia to win its regional. Had Georgia beaten the Gophers twice, Torina and Co. would have hosted a super regional against the Bulldogs. Now, LSU will play at Minnesota at 4 p.m. Friday (ESPNU), 5 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2), and 3 p.m. Sunday (ESPN), if necessary. As it is, LSU fought hard to win its regional and seemed to come out of their doldrums somewhat. The best news was Amanda Sanchez' home run that snapped her 0 for 12 streak. She's a vital part of that offense. That homer might get the offense percolating like it was earlier this season.
In football news, LSU cornerback Kelvin Joseph, one of the prized members of LSU’s 2018 recruiting class, entered the NCAA transfer portal yesterday. This came as a surprise as Joseph seemed in line for playing time this year, even if Derek Stingley and Kristian Fulton earn the starting cornerback roles. A tweet by Joseph – “lol I was born to compete” – indicates that this is not at all about fearing the competition, and I have reason to believe that’s true. Shea Dixon of 247Sports tweeted yesterday that Joseph was in class at LSU yesterday with intersession going on, which suggests this could be about academics. What makes the story all the more interesting is that Joseph’s father told NOLA.com later in the day that Joseph is staying at LSU. Just because a player enters his name in the portal doesn't mean he has to leave the program. It just allows other schools to have contact with the player.
• LSU Track & Field teams are headed to Jacksonville for the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds beginning Thursday. The men go into it as the reigning SEC Champion ranked No. 2 in the nation, while the women are ranked No. 6.
• Here’s Athlon Sports College Football Top 25 Rankings for 2019. Spoiler alert: They have LSU ranked at No. 7.
• Lastly, thanks to those of you who have sent suggestions for our 100-day countdown to the start of LSU football. Please keep ’em coming. The 100-day mark begins Thursday.