LSU should give the NCAA Baseball Selection Committee a big, sloppy kiss. Had a powerful 2-seed been sent to Baton Rouge, it is quite possible LSU doesn't get out of its own regional based upon its play this weekend. To say LSU played sloppy, mistake-prone baseball is to completely undersell just how poor their effort looked for most of the weekend. Luckily, there wasn't a team in the regional able to take advantage of LSU's struggles, and the best they could manage was a decent scare.
The weekend started on an inauspicious note, with Cody Glenn getting himself suspended for undisclosed violations of team rules. I don't know what he did, but the kid has to be more responsible come NCAA tournament time. The loss of Glenn sent the pitching staff scrambling before a single pitch was thrown. Things would get worse from there.
GAME 1: LSU 11, JACKSON ST. 7
Ryan Eades responded to the pressure of needing to step up inabsence by promptly giving up 2 runs in the first innings. He allowed two base runners in the second, and escaped the jam, only to repeat the trick in the third inning. A mere 2.1 innings into his start against one of the weakest teams in the entire field of 64, Mainieri had to pull the plug with two runners on in the third. Eades' final line was something out of Bull Durham: 2.1 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 2 K, 3 BB, 2 HBP, 1 WP. He did everything but hit Mike the Tiger.
OK, he can partly use the weather excuse. There was a long weather delay in the middle of the first, but... wow. That is an atrocious outing. Much-maligned Kurt McCune came into this jam and got out of it without allowing a run. From then on, he was golden. MCCune spread out four hits over 4.2 innings, and was pulled to start the eighth inning for reasons passing understanding with an 11-2 lead. And that's when the trouble started again.
I have no earthly idea what Mainieri was thinking here. McCune was pretty much burned for the weekend, and he was pitching great. The pen was already short staffed, so let the guy save the bullpen and finish the blowout. He had only thrown 52 pitches and needed only two more innings of work to get us out of there. Instead, Mainieri went to the bullpen, which proceeded to implode. A succession of four pitchers, including two possible Sunday starters, gave up 5 runs in two innings to make the game uncomfortably close. It didn't matter much in this game, but now LSU would go through the rest of the regional without many options in the pen, and no real options for a possible Monday game other than Johnny Allstaff.
GAME 2: LSU 8, SAM HOUSTON ST. 5
Right after I get done talking about how LSU is a pitching and defense team, LSU goes out and commits five errors, three in the first inning. I know Aaron Nola didn't allow an earned run, but he did allow five runs, and he clearly labored through the first inning. Bregman and Rhymes, who collided on a pop up in the previous game, looked a little worse for wear and perhaps that collision was in the back of Bregman's mind as he threw the ball all over the diamond.
Things weren't helped much by a home plate umpire that could charitably be described as an affront to baseball and the very principles of fair play. He had a strike zone that wasn't big or small, just an amorphous blob that kept shifting in shape like an amoeba. Alex Bregman made up for his poor play in the field with a home run that the umpire then ruled a double. It was that sort of game. When Mason Katz was called out at third in the 6th inning, I thought it was distinctly possible his head was going to explode.
Despite all this, the team rallied like an LSU team should. Nola didn't allow a run after the disastrous first inning, and by the middle innings, he was his old dominant self again. The bats went silent for a long stretch, but came alive in the eighth and they rallied for four runs in the inning, keyed by, wait for it, a SHSU error. What goes around, comes around. It was a shaky effort, but LSU got through with a win. It was at this point that pretty much everyone realized this was just a team trying to survive and advance. There would be no points for artistic impression.
GAME 3: LSU 5, ULL 1
Finally, LSU showed up. This game lacked any real drama, and the only real attempt at mystery was the worst kept secret in Baton Rouge: Brent Bonvillian was getting the key Sunday start. He was brilliant again, just like he was in the SEC tournament. In order to make a run in the postseason, you need bench guys to step up big, and right now, Bonvillain is doing his best Daniel Bradshaw impression. This was a clutch outing, that SLU sorely, sorely needed.
One could complain that LSU left 13 runners on in this game, and running theme of the weekend, but really, this was a function of constantly threatening the ULL pitchers until they finally cracked. Just about every inning, LSU had multiple runners on, and the Cajuns had to try and work their way out of the jam. After a few successful attempts, they eventually fell off the tightrope. LSU broke through in the fifth, and broke things open in the sixth. ULL never seriously threatened after that, scoring one run on three hits.
It wasn't pretty, but it worked.