By LUKE JOHNSON
Tiger Rag Editor
LSU coach Paul Mainieri admitted postseason baseball had him thinking too hard.
So he simplified things. Regardless of who LSU (43-14-1) may be facing in the second game of its regional tournament, ace pitcher Aaron Nola will be on the mound for it. That means freshman southpaw Jared Poché will start LSU’s regional opener Friday at 2 p.m. against Southeastern Louisiana (37-23), as originally planned.
"Sometimes you can pitch off and save your Nos. 1 and 2 for Game 2 and Game 3,” Mainieri said. "But I didn’t feel like we could do that this weekend, I have too much respect for Southeastern Louisiana and the caliber of their team and the caliber of the pitcher that we’re going up against.”
That pitcher is Southeastern ace Andro Cutura, who led the Lions’ staff in wins (10), ERA (1.72), complete games (3) and strikeouts (95). His statistics are impressive, but Poché has put together a nice year, too.
Poché is gunning for his 10th win of the season and has pitched particularly strong as of late. He fired eight innings of shutout ball in his final start of the regular season against Auburn, and followed that up by allowing one run in seven innings of work against Vanderbilt.
"I feel like Poché is a good matchup against them,” Mainieri said. "I feel like he can go out there and lead us off, pitch the way he’s been pitching. If he does that, obviously I’m confident that he can have success.”
Like the Tigers, the Lions are entering the regional tournament on a hot streak. They’ve won six straight games, including a four-game sweep in the Southland Conference tournament that propelled them into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1994.
The Lions have a couple dangerous hitters in their lineup, including catcher Jameson Fisher and right-fielder Andrew Gobold, who occupy the Nos. 2 and 3 spots in the Southeastern lineup.
Fisher compiled a .394 batting average while playing all 60 games for the Lions this season, and his .487 on base percentage is the best of any player in the regional tournament. While Fisher isn’t much of a threat to hit one out of the park, he tied for the Lions’ team lead with 16 doubles this season.
Godbold is a different story. He hit eight balls out of the park this season in addition to tallying a .348 batting average and eight stolen bases.
"He’s going to have to pitch well, this is a good team we’re going up against,” Mainieri said. "Their pitcher is really tough. I don’t know what we’re going to do offensively, it could end up being a 2-1 game, hopefully we’ll swing the bats better than that to be able to get a little breathing room.
"But we’re going to go into the game assuming it’s going to be a low-scoring, tight ballgame. I think Poché is the right guy to go in that game.”
CHANCE OF RAIN?
After a deluge pounded the Baton Rouge area on Wednesday, things were looking a little murky for the tournament this weekend. But recent weather forecasts offered a little bit of optimism as far as the wet stuff goes.
That doesn’t mean they’re out of the water yet.
Forecasts indicate there is still a high probability of rain on both Friday and Saturday all through the day. The weather system should clear out by Sunday.
Since LSU is serving as a host, and not officially the home team, the NCAA sent a pair of men to make any sort of decisions based on weather. Those calls typically involve Mainieri and the opposing coach.
"These decisions are totally out of my lap now, and I’m glad to pass them on to the NCAA,” Mainieri said. "It’s totally up to the two gentlemen that have been sent here by the NCAA.”
WHY SO EARLY?
Mainieri said he understands why some may be upset about the Tigers 2 p.m. start time on Friday, which LSU selected. But he is taking a page out of legendary former LSU coach Skip Bertman’s book, and has been since his time at Notre Dame.
Mainieri recalled two separate instances when his team hosted a regional and picked a late start, only to be burned later. One came when the early game went 14 innings, and Mainieri’s team had to wait nearly two hours past its intended start time to play. The other came when the early game was played without incident, but rain caused the late game to be postponed. It allowed the other team to rest its ace and throw him against Mainieri’s Notre Dame squad in the championship game, which Mainieri’s team ended up losing.
So, Mainieri said, he understands. But he’ll take whatever advantage he can get at this point of the season.
"From a competitive standpoint it’s the smart thing to do,” Mainieri said.
LSU – Freshman LHP Jared Poché (9-3, 2.21 ERA, 85.2 IP, 25 BB, 51 K)
SELU – Junior RHP Andro Cutura (10-2, 1.72 ERA, 99.2 IP, 19 BB, 95 K)
First pitch: 2 p.m.
Radio: 98.1 FM
TV: Not carried locally, but you can sign in with your cable provider at ESPN3.com