The weekend in Auburn wasn’t what LSU (33-23, 15-15 in SEC) wanted, but it was probably about as best as could be expected. Dropping two of three in blowout fashion, but stealing a win with a glimpse at the bright future as Hilliard outshone the presumptive #1 pick for the 2018 MLB draft. Watching the games in person (Plainsman Park is an excellent little stadium btw), I never saw that LSU was unmotivated or didn’t have the will to try to pull that upset off, but too many little mistakes and too little pitching depth killed any chance of making it a reality. LSU’s walking IC ward on the bench, which now includes the semi-permanent residence of Josh Smith, has just been too much to overcome for most of the year. There are people screaming bloody murder about this season, but ignore that noise. LSU simply had too many losses to graduation, the draft, and injuries to overcome this year, and the fact that they were still able to finish at .500 in conference play in one of the best SEC fields in years, while not an accomplishment that will go down in the great history of LSU baseball, is still something they can be a little proud of. In five years, we’ll all tell the tale of how Austin Bain fielded all 8 positions, pitched relief, and still led the SEC in doubles in the same season.
So now comes the end. LSU heads to Hoover as the 8 seed, hovering in the low 40s of the RPI, that abysmal 4-14 road record hanging like a dead albatross over the resume. The prognosticators have LSU somewhere around the Last Four In, and that’s not a place anyone wants to be. LSU needs a win (probably two) this week to get themselves on the safe side of the bubble. To do that, they’ll have to first go through their old blood rival.
Mississippi St (31-24, 15-15 in SEC) has been on a tear the last few weeks, as the team seems to want to send interim head coach Gary Henderson out on a high note. Since dropping 2 of 3 to LSU back in April, State has won weekend series against 3 top ten ranked SEC squads, including Ole Miss, Arkansas, and a sweep of #1 Florida last weekend (Ah yes, the benefits of playing a Kevin O’Sullivan team that’s already mathematically locked up the overall #1 national seed.) State has the same SEC record as LSU and won 2 less games overall, but the strength of the road heavy schedule they had this season while the renovations to their home stadium continue puts their RPI way up at 26 and make them a practical lock for the postseason. Even still, State is up to something today, as they’ve decided to throw Jr. LHP Konnor Pilkington (2-6, 4.30 ERA, 83.2 IP, 24 BB/87 K) on short rest after a 6.1 IP outing this past Thursday. It’s basically the opposite side of the coin from Coach Mainieri’s decision to start So. LHP Nick Bush (1-1, 3.37 ERA, 37.2 IP, 14 BB/37 K) who didn’t throw at all last week.
I get both arguments in this situation. Do you start your best available arm, regardless of rest, or a rested, but less talented guy? Today is a single elimination round and LSU probably needs more than one win in Hoover to play past this week. But you wont play Wednesday (against #1 UF btw) if you cant get through today. Mainieri’s suggestion that he might even throw Hess out of the pen today signals the desperation this team has. If Hess or Hilliard were fully rested and ready he’d start them, but they aren’t, so LSU is going to have to piece this one together.
The game is scheduled for 4:30pm Central, Live on the SEC Network, but it will be the 3rd game of the day and the opener this morning is already suffering some long rain delays. It doesn’t take much to get things backed up in bad weather in Hoover, so be ready for a long night.