BREAKING: 2:56 pm CT
BOOM! LSU basketball lands elite power forward Trendon Watford (6-9, 230)! Huge get! The 5-star prospect chose LSU over his home-state Alabama. (Man, I love the sound of that!)
5/20/19 5:30 am CT
Good morning, Tiger Fans,
At 2:30 this afternoon, the fifth-seed LSU baseball team (34-22, 17-13 SEC) departs for Hoover, Alabama for the SEC tournament. LSU’s first order of business will be surviving an elimination game Tuesday at 8 p.m. against South Carolina (28-27, 8-22). We’ll have much more on that contest and how the two teams stack up in tomorrow morning’s report. But for now, let’s take a look at a few of the many things LSU needs to do to have the kind of postseason that will make Tiger fans forget about an up-and-down regular season that ended with the Tigers winning five of their last six games but leaving a lot to be desired.
Keys to LSU Baseball Postseason Success
1. Pitch like vs. Auburn (with one notable exception)
Eric Walker and Landon Marceaux had outstanding starts versus Auburn, and the relievers who followed did their jobs, too. As a result, LSU limited Auburn to just two hits per game, something a Tiger pitching staff hadn’t done against any opponent in 30 years. Then in Game 3, LSU’s “Johnny Wholestaff” approach held Auburn to zero runs and two hits through the first four innings, which added up to just two runs on six hits in 22 innings of work. That kind of extraordinary pitching can win a lot of ballgames. But it can also go for naught if there’s not a dependable closer in the final innings, which leads to No. 2 on this list…
2. Close Strong (the exception noted above)
Paul Mainieri’s Tigers had a golden opportunity to sweep Auburn as they entered the ninth inning of Game 3 with a two-run lead. Then with one out and a 2-0 count on Matt Scheffler, Hess gave up a two-run homer. It was the fourth home run Hess has allowed since moving to the bullpen. Look, I get that a pitcher like Hess, who throws with such heat, is going to give up some long balls. And I don’t think the ninth-inning 0-2 pitch he made against Auburn was a bad one. The truth is, the home run doesn’t bother me as much as the four-pitch walk that proceeded it. Without that base on balls, LSU likely emerges with a sweep and we’re relishing an outstanding weekend of LSU baseball. It should also be noted that Hess was outstanding in his closing role the night before, retiring all six batters he faced to preserve the lead. Tiger fans know that he and Todd Peterson can be strong closers. What LSU needs is for them to demonstrate that with consistency down the stretch.
3. Help from Henry and Hilliard (No, I didn’t mean Hill)
Cole Henry looked like a bona fide Friday night SEC ace in his last two starts but has been sidelined for four weeks due to arm soreness. The good news is he’s expected to return to action this week. As of this morning, just what kind of role he will play is unclear. What is clear, however, is that if he picks up where he left off, and if Landon Marceaux and Eric Walker continue to pitch like they have recently, LSU will have an outstanding trio of starting pitchers. But it often takes more than three solid starters to have pitching success in postseason play. LSU will likely need a solid fourth starter and a dependable long-relief guy. Sophomore Ma’Khail Hilliard is an ideal candidate for either role, but he has struggled of late. Getting him back to mid-season freshman form would be big for this team. You may have noticed I mentioned freshman Jaden Hill above in the sub-headline. Unfortunately, he still doesn’t feel right and has been ruled out for SEC tournament play. Getting him back anytime during the postseason would be huge, but at this point, I wouldn’t count on it.
4. Get hot like Garza (others need to catch his fire)
Back in February, when I conducted this preseason Q&A with Paul Mainieri, he described Garza’s hitting at the time as “all or nothing.” Well, lately, it’s been “all.” This past weekend against Auburn, Garza went 7-for-11 with two RBIs. It’s probably unrealistic to expect him to stay that hot, which makes it all the more important for others to catch fire offensively. Josh Smith swung the bat well in the series but didn’t have a lot to show for it, going 4-for-14 with one RBI. Daniel Cabrera had a rougher time, going 2-for-11 with two RBI. This would be an excellent time for those two veterans to get hot and stay hot.
Turning to softball…
With a 5-1 victory in Game 7 of the Baton Rouge regional, the LSU softball team advanced to its fifth consecutive Super Regional. Folks, that’s a remarkable accomplishment, and it’s not something we should take for granted. Living up to their #FightAllTheWay slogan, the Tigers rallied back after losing 5-4 in the first of Sunday’s doubleheader, and they did so brilliantly with another excellent outing from Maribeth Gorsuch inside the circle. Here’s Jake’s quick rundown of both exhilarating contests in Baton Rouge yesterday.
The Tigers engaged in another back-and-forth classic with Texas Tech before ultimately falling 5-4, thus forcing a Game 7. LSU landed the first blow in the competitive contest. Seconds before making history as the single-season stolen base leader for the Tigers (46), Aliyah Andrew laid down a bunt for a perfectly executed squeeze play to give LSU a 1-0 lead. Tied 1-1 in the fourth inning, pinch hitter Michaela Schlattman swung the game back in favor of the Tigers when she drove in Amanda Doyle on a sacrifice fly. But if there’s anything we’ve learned about Texas Tech this weekend, it’s that the Red Raiders won’t go away easy. Texas Tech came right back in the bottom of the fourth and took a 3-2 lead on a Zoe Jones home run. Shelbi Sunseri replaced Shelby Wickersham in the fourth inning with the bases juiced with one out. After walking in another run, Sunseri got out of the inning with a pop fly. Down by two in the sixth, Doyle hit a solo homer before Schlattmann came through in the clutch again with a double off the right field wall to score Savannah Stewart and tie the game, 4-4. But ultimately in the bottom frame, Jessica Hartwell came through with her third single of the game to give Texas Tech the go-ahead run and eventual victory.
Trailing by one in the second inning, Amanda Sanchez finally got ahold of one and belted a solo blast. Sanchez, who had struggled for most of the Regional, lit the fuse in the dugout as everyone kissed the bat for good measure. And LSU would carve out long innings after. The Tigers put at least two runners on in back-to-back innings and finally took a 2-1 lead when Amber Serrett hit an RBI single in the third. Head coach Beth Torina waved a second runner home on Serrett’s single but Texas Tech gunned down Amanda Doyle at home. Meanwhile, Maribeth Gorsuch kept battling. In fact, the very next inning saw Gorsuch battle out of a bases-loaded jam to preserve the one-run lead for the Tigers. And then Gorsuch would get the insurance she needed. In the bottom half of the inning, Sunseri blasted a 3-run homer with two outs to give LSU a 5-1 advantage. Sunseri, by the way, relieved Gorsuch in the sixth inning with two on and two outs. Sunseri forced a fielder’s choice and closed the game out in the seventh for the Tiger victory.
Next up, Coach Beth Torina’s Tigers begin Super Regional play this weekend against the winner of the Minnesota regional, which was postponed yesterday. Details on location, date, and time of the series are yet to be determined.
• In football recruiting news, a top-10 Louisiana prospect for 2019 appears to be heading out of state, as athlete Joel Williams of Madison Prep committed to Florida this weekend. Williams checks in at No. 9 on our list of Top LA Prospects and you never like to see a guy like that get away, but I’m not overly concerned. Most project Williams as a safety and LSU is recruiting several others who are just as high or higher on their board. These include Jordan Toles of Maryland, Lathon Ransom of Arizona, Xavion Alford of Texas, and a trio of in-state safeties in Bud Clark of Alexandria Senior High, Eric Reed of Calvary Baptist, and Major Burns of Madison Prep.
• LSU basketball fans who follow recruiting will be anxiously awaiting an announcement that should come a little after 2:30 p.m. today. That’s when five-star power forward Trendon Watford will announce his school of choice. His leaders are believed to be LSU, Alabama, Indiana, and Memphis. As soon as I learn of his decision, I’ll tweet the news to those of you who follow DandyDonLSU on Twitter.
• Lastly, a reminder that our 100-day countdown to the start of LSU football begins Thursday. If you have topic suggestions for the countdown, please send them my way.