By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Hitting is contagious.
Perhaps errors are too.
That’s certainly been the case this past week for an LSU club that entered the NCAA Tournament with the seventh-best fielding percentage in the nation. Defense has been LSU’s daily calling card throughout the ups and downs of the campaign, but it’s faltered of late.
The Bayou Bengals committed five errors against Texas Southern to dig two early holes before mashing its way to a 15-7 win in the Baton Rouge Regional opener Friday.
That makes 10 errors in three games dating back to the SEC Tournament in Hoover for a defense that committed just 36 in the first 58 games of the season.
“We had a little hiccup over in Hoover the one game. But I thought that was just an aberration, and I think today was an aberration,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I think we have a good defensive team, but today it just — it was just a bunch of weird things happening.”
LSU made errors of every size and shape. Kramer Robertson had the worst of it, beginning Texas Southern’s four-run fifth with a wide throw and then having a tailor-made double play go through his legs to bring home two more runs.
There were also errors of the metal verity. A run came home on the first inning when Nick Coomes didn’t cover first base as Robertson fielded and fired a ball that’d ricocheted off Josh Smith’s glove at third base.
Some mistakes didn’t even make the stat sheet. With a runner on third base, Greg Deichmann caught a fly in right field and inexplicably didn’t throw home. It would’ve cost LSU a run had the baserunner not inexplicably stopped halfway to the plate and retreated.
“There were things I saw today that I haven’t seen all year, maybe in a few years,” Mainieri said. “Again, it was just kind of — I don’t know if it was focus. I don’t know if it was guys were a little tight, you know, because being back home. We haven’t played here in a while in front of our crowd. Or just say that it was just funny baseball. Sometimes it happens.”
Despite what he characterized as a strong week of practice, the coach couldn’t rule out a lack of focus as the root cause of the uncharacteristic defensive miscues.
Mainieri put that onus on himself, suggesting that his red-hot Tigers, now winners of 12 games in a row, might’ve lost some edge due to all of the focus surrounding the team’s pitching plan.
On Thursday Mainieri addressed the possibility of hooking Poche’ to keep him ready to come back in relief on Monday — if necessary — and how many innings he’d need to pitch to qualify for career victory No. 38, which would tie Scott Schultz for the program record.
“I think it was my fault more than anybody’s,” Mainieri said. “There was so much talk, who is he going to pitch? If he pitches Poche, is he going to get him out of the game early so we can have him available on Monday in case we need him? As though there wasn’t even an opponent we had to go out there and play against.”
He continued: “We play better when we focus on the other team. What do we have to do to go beat these guys? Instead of, well, let’s see how the game plays out. If we get an early lead, we can hook them. If you do that — I mean, there was never any intention of disrespecting the opponent, I can assure you of that. But when you lose that edge, when you feel like — you know, you don’t have to play your very best to beat somebody, I think sometimes it’s a good wake-up call. Fortunately, we were still able to win the game.”