For a moment, there was a pause between alternating pings and thuds of LSU’s batting practice.
Head coach Paul Mainieri stepped into the cage and made some slight adjustments to freshman catcher Alex Milazzo’s swing, tinkering with his hand placement.
Moments later, Milazzo hit a line drive right up the middle. He walked out of the cage to cheers from his teammates and a hug from Mainieri.
Since LSU’s trip to Houston where it went 1-2 and got no-hit in the Shriner’s Hospital for Children College Classic, Mainieri and the LSU coaching staff have been preaching an opposite field approach to their team. The opposite field intent is meant to cut down on the number of strikeouts after the Tigers were retired on strikes over 10 times in all three games.
Before they took the field for batting practice, Mainieri talked with the team for half an hour about their approach at the plate. They looked at film from Houston and broke down swings, both good and bad.
The film breakdown and Mainieri’s adjustment helped keep Milazzo’s hands in front of barrel, giving him more control against balls breaking away from him.
“This past week he’s been emphasizing everybody hitting the ball to the opposite field to cut down on the strikeouts” Milazzo said. “That way we can see pitches better and have better direction on swings.”
This weekend LSU (8-5) host the UMass Lowell River Hawks to wrap up the non-conference weekend portion of the regular season. It’s the last chance for the Tigers to do any fine-tuning or make adjustments. After this weekend, they dive headfirst into the deep end of SEC play with a road trip to Ole Miss before hosting Mississippi State, with Tulane sandwiched in between for good measure.
“It’s time for us to start improving from an offensive standpoint,” Mainieri said. “It’s not going to get any easier when we go to Ole Miss, they have a tremendous pitching staff. And then after that you play Mississippi State, and they have a tremendous pitching staff, and on the down the line.”
Above all else, Mainieri wants to see his young team play with confidence. That’s been harder to come by for the Tigers than it usually is simply because the team skews so young.
The starting catcher, second baseman, shortstop, and left fielder are all true freshman. The third baseman is a junior college transfer in his first year at LSU and the starting centerfielder is a sophomore who saw partial playing time as a designated hitter. It’s the least experienced team LSU has fielded in quite some time, and with that comes uncertainty.
“I really want to see the confidence of the team grow,” Mainieri said. “That’s really the biggest thing. It’s like the old chicken or the egg question, do you have confidence and that’s why you do well, or do you gain confidence because you do well? Can you do well without the confidence to start with? I think the answer to that is that you have to have confidence to begin with, but as you have success your confidence grows. I don’t think we’re yet the confident team we’re accustomed to having at LSU.”
There isn’t a better opponent on the schedule to pick up some steam against than UMass Lowell. The River Hawks are 4-6 on the year after beating Canisius 3-1 in a four-game series, getting swept at Elon, and losing the last two games against Delaware.
The series kicks off Friday night at 7:00 p.m. Game two will be Saturday at 2:00, and the Sunday finale will be at noon. All three games will be broadcast online on SEC Network+.