By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Andy Cannizaro knows LSU’s roster inside and out.
He signed a majority of the Tigers in two years as LSU’s recruiting coordinator, and having served as the team’s hitting coach until November, when he left abruptly to become Mississippi State’s head coach, he’s worked with every position player on the roster in some capacity.
Coach Paul Mainieri and the Tigers will renew acquaintances with Cannizaro as LSU heads to Starkville this weekend. The two sides begin a three-game series Thursday night with the SEC West title hanging in the balance.
“I don’t think knowing the roster is going to be a factor, honestly,” Mainieri said. “It’s still going to be a matter of the players have to play. Which players play better? You can know all you want about a particular team, but the players still have to go out and play the game and execute it.”
Here’s the thing: Mainieri and his players are just as familiar with the way Cannizaro likes to play as he is with them.
First and foremost, LSU knows Cannizaro is always going to push the envelopes on the base paths. Whenever possible, his teams are going to go for the extra base and put the onus on the defense to make the play and throw them out.
“He likes to put pressure on the defense,” second baseman Cole Freeman said. “That’s exactly what we did last year, and we’re going to be expecting that.”
Mississippi State has attempted 98 stolen bases this season, the second highest total in the league, and swiped 66 bags, which ranks third. The Bulldogs have also had 32 would-be base stealers caught this season, tied for the most in the league.
“I’m sure it’ll be part of his gameplan,” Mainieri said, “but he also knows I know he likes to run, so he knows I’m not afraid to call pitchouts and those types of things as well.”
LSU can discourage the running game, Mainieri said, if they’re able to jump out to some early leads and force Mississippi State to play from behind.
And if Cannizaro does decide to give his array of speedy runners the green light — as the stats indicate he likely will — Mainieri and Co. expressed full confidence Mike Papierski will make them pay.
Even before his recent hot streak at the plate, Papierski had been rock solid behind it. The junior has gunned down 20 would-be base stealers this season, the most in the SEC.
“Pap has a cannon back there,” said lefty Jared Poche’. “He’s been clocked at 1.8 seconds (from receiving the ball at home plate to his throw reaching second base), which is above Big League average. He’s as good as it gets with the catch and throw.”
As far as taking extra bases go, it’ll be interesting to see how much Cannizaro and Mississippi State elect to test a defense that has committed the fewest errors in the league (33) and is on pace to set a school record for fielding percentage (.983).