Tigers set for Wally Pontiff, Jr. Classic
LSU and Southern Miss will share Zephyr Field for third straight year
Wally Pontiff, Jr. had a tremendous career at LSU with a .344 batting average in three seasons, and he’ll be remembered tonight at the sixth annual Wally Pontiff, Jr. Classic in his hometown of Metairie (Tiger Rag File Photo).
By RICHARD FISCHER
Tiger Rag Assistant Editor
When LSU’s 56-game baseball schedule is released every year, there’s one game that always stands out.
And no it’s not one of the 30 heavyweight bouts the Tigers face in SEC play.
Instead, it’s a break from the intensity of league play for a look back and remembrance of one of their own who was lost far too soon - former LSU third baseman Wally Pontiff, Jr.
July will mark the 10-year anniversary of his passing, and tonight is the ninth annual Wally Pontiff, Jr. Classic in his hometown of Metairie, where for one night the Tigers take the field in for more than just a game.
“I didn’t get to know [Pontiff] too well, but I feel like I know him because I know so many people who knew him that talk about him so much,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri told BBI Senior Writer Hunt Palmer Tuesday night. “It’s very clear to me that he epitomized what a student athlete should be like.”
Southern Miss (19-12) is the opponent for LSU (26-7) at Zephyr Field, and however heavy the hearts of LSU’s players are, you can bet Pontiff would like his purple and gold cohorts to focus on defeating a talented Golden Eagle squad.
The team from Hattiesburg owns a 3-1 record over SEC opponents so far this season including a 14-2 win over Alabama and a 10-0 win over Ole Miss.
Slidell native Taylor Nunez will take the ball for the Golden Eagles tonight. The freshman righty is 1-2 with a 2.18 ERA this season.
He’ll be countered by LSU’s freshman righty from Louisiana, Aaron Nola. However Nola won’t go more than an inning tonight. Mainieri expressed interest in getting Nola back out there briefly before starting him Sunday versus Alabama.
The Tigers will then likely piece together the game with several pitchers, similar to the way they threw seven pitchers in an 8-6 win over this same Southern Miss team in last year’s Classic.
This is the third consecutive year the Tigers and Golden Eagles battle in the Wally Pontiff, Jr. Classic. LSU won the previous two, beginning with a 12-inning 6-5 victory in 2010 where freshman-at-the-time and nearby Harahan native Mason Katz came through with a rally-starting pinch-hit double in extra innings.
“My freshman year I have a great memory of getting a big hit. From that point, that was really what jumpstarted playing my freshman year,” said Katz Monday. “I love the game. It’s a great experience. I went every year growing up, so I love playing in it. It’s going to be a thrill.”
Katz missed the game last year due to a broken hand, but he’ll be ready go in the 2012 rendition.
The Wally Pontiff, Jr. Classic began in 2004 with a 9-3 triumph over Southeastern Louisiana.
Interesting that three of the last five Wally Pontiff, Jr. Classics were decided in the ninth or in extra innings.
But maybe the most impressive thing about the Classic is the increasing attention it receives every year. Attendance figures have gone up every year since its inception. There were just under 4,700 in 2007, and it rose all the way to 9,700 last season.
First pitch tonight is at 7 p.m., and the game will be televised by Jumbo Sports Network. It can be seen on Cox 4 in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette.