Tigers take on No. 4 seed Utah Valley at 2 p.m. Friday
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Long before being named an All-American shortstop, Kramer Robertson, still rehabbing from an arm injury at the time, watched LSU’s 2015 regional opener on television elsewhere in Baton Rouge.
“It was hard because I couldn’t sit in the dugout,” Robertson said, “and I didn’t want to sit in the stands because that would have been pretty brutal.”
Greg Deichmann streamed the proceedings via his cell phone after departing for summer ball. Antoine Duplantis and Chris Reid were finishing up high school. Bryce Jordan and Mike Papierski were at Alex Box Stadium, but largely relegated to spectator status from the bench as reserves behind veterans.
Now all of the above are prominent pieces of the puzzle as used-to-be-young LSU, the No. 8 national seed, opens up play at the 2016 Baton Rouge Regional against fourth-seed Utah Valley at 2 p.m. Friday.
“We’re ready to get going,” Deichmann said. “The inexperience factor isn’t something we really think about anymore. We’re 60 games into the season. I don’t think it’s much of anything.”
“Not a shot,” Jordan laughed, asked if he thought the Tigers were still a young team. “We’ve been doing this all year long. It shouldn’t be new to anybody.”
Aside from Jake Fraley, none of LSU’s position players have more than fleeting NCAA Tournament experience. That could produce some jitters and pregame butterflies before the Tigers and Wolverines take the field – weather permitting — for the 2 p.m. first pitch.
Just don’t expect it to damper the enthusiasm or confidence of a team that comes in winners of 14 of their last 16 after reaching the SEC Tournament semifinals in Hoover.
“We’ve all got a bunch of games and at-bats under our belts,” Duplantis said. “There’s really no excuses for saying that we’re young anymore. We’re just trying to carry this momentum into the next two weeks.”
One spot LSU won’t be lacking for postseason experience is on the mound. LSU coach Paul Mainieri announced seasoned lefty Jared Poche’ would get the nod for Friday’s regional opener.
Last year, Mainieri threw Alden Cartwright in the regional opener against Lehigh for an inning and pieced the game together with his bullpen after a lengthy rain delay. He couldn’t take such a risk against a Wolverine lineup that hit .288 as a team with eight regular contributors hitting .296 or better.
“We’re not playing a cupcake in this first game,” Mainieri said. “So we couldn’t pitch off the first game any lower than a guy who has been our first or second starter his whole career. That’s the respect I have for Utah Valley. I think the reason were going with Jared is his ability plus his experience.”
With seven wins this season, the junior southpaw has now won 25 games during his time in purple and gold. He started a regional opener as a true freshman in 2014 and got the ball in LSU’s College World Series opener last summer.
Simply put, Poche’ has gotten the ball and pitched well in similarly-pressured situations throughout his collegiate career. Now more than ever, the onus falls on his to set the tone early.
“Having that veteran presence on the mound kind of leading the charge is definitely going to help,” Deichmann said.
The unique challenge for Poche’ and Co. will be facing a team without their typically-expansive scouting report. It’ll be much more of a guessing game than facing an SEC foe that has the majority of its games televised.
Utah Valley only played on TV once this season, and common opponent Sacrament State’s coach declined to divulge much in the way of details when Mainieri called, the LSU coach said. He joked they’re doing ‘old school’ scouting, which involves gleaning what one can from stats and splits.
“I know they’re a veteran team,” Poche’ said. “They’ve got a lot of juniors and seniors on that team. And I know they can hit a little bit. So I’m definitely not taking them too lightly.”
NEWS AND NOTES
– Mainieri said he didn’t know whether it’d be Papierski or Jordan Romero behind the plate Friday. “I’m going to sleep on it,” he said.
– Left-hander Jake Latz is available to work out of the bullpen this weekend, Mainieri said, though the coach is cognizant of the fact Latz has never entered the middle of an inning and needs extra time to get warmed up. He’d also be an option to start if the regional extended into Monday or beyond.
– SS Kramer Robertson was named a Louisville Slugger second-team All-American. His coach expressed joy that his picture would now hang among LSU’s other All-Americans in the players lounge. He was also named one of 11 semi-finalists for the Brooks Wallace Award, given annually to the nation’s best shortstop.