By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
The two most prolific sluggers in the Southeastern Conference take center stage this weekend as LSU and Mississippi State face off with the SEC West title hanging in the balance.
Greg Deichmann has been the heart and soul of the LSU lineup. He’s hit 17 home runs this season, the most by a Tiger since Matt Gaudet hit 19 in 2010, and driven in 60 runs while hitting .318.
LSU’s postseason dreams flashed before its eyes when Deichmann grabbed at his knee after a collision Tuesday, but the right fielder declared himself “100 percent” having gotten in a workout and a run before the team departed for Starkville Wednesday afternoon.
Most years Deichmann’s gaudy stats would have place him atop the SEC in every power category. That goes to underscore just how absurd of a season Bulldogs slugger Brent Rooker is putting together.
“He’s going to be a runaway winner for SEC Player of the Year,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “And I hate to say that because we’ve got a guy that has had a phenomenal year as well, but Rooker is just outstanding.”
Rooker leads the conference in damn near every offensive statistic, including batting average (.406), slugging percentage (.885), on-base percentage (.514), home runs (20), doubles (26) and RBI (71).
He’s also tied for the league lead with 18 stolen bases, just two shy of a 20/20/20 campaign (home runs, doubles and steals) rarely seen in the college game. His 170 total bases are 32 more than the next closest SEC player, and Deichmann sits in a tie for third at 125.
“He’s having an unbelievable year,” LSU lefty Jared Poche’ said. “He’s obviously not Babe Ruth, so I still think if we make our pitches, we should be able to get him out. But he’s definitely a great hitter, so I’m not taking anything away from him. He’s doing it all right now.”
Anytime the league’s two leading home run hitters are in the same ballpark, there’s a chance to see some baseballs fly a long way.
As it turns out, the two sluggers have formed a fast friendship since competing in the College Home Run Derby in Omaha last summer.
“We talk almost every week,” Deichmann said. “It’s been fun to watch him. We talk hitting a lot, too. Just kind of pick each other’s brains and see what each other do. We’ve got a good relationship going, and it’s fun to have that.”
Hitting is a universal language, so despite the fact that Rooker swings right handed while Deichmann is a lefty, they’ll trade tips and scouting reports over the course of conversations.
There’s some friendly rivalry, too. Rooker got the best of Deichmann in at TD Ameritrade Park last summer, out-homering the Tiger slugger 16-13 in the first round, but Deichmann plans on evening that margin this weekend.
“It’s cool to talk with a guy who is leading the SEC in all those categories and I’ve been right up there with him,” Deichmann said. “So kind of going back and forth, I mess with him all the time telling him I’m coming for him. I hit one last night and he didn’t, so I told him ‘I’m going to hit three this weekend and pass you up.’ We play around a little bit, but it’s fun.”
Just one more storyline with the potential for fireworks in a weekend chocked full of them.