By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Whatever their role, Jordan Romero and Nick Coomes have done a lot of winning together.
Separated by a year in school — Romero is a senior, Coomes a junior — they captured a state baseball championship together at Catholic High right down the road in Baton Rouge. The pair then won a JUCO national championship in their lone season together at LSU-Eunice.
Now teammates again, the veteran reserves came off the bench and provided a lift as LSU took two out of three games from SEC West-leading Arkansas over the weekend. The victories have the Tigers on the emotional upswing heading into Tuesday night’s Wally Pontiff Classic against UL-Lafayette.
“I thought they both gave us a tremendous spark,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
Romero crushed a pinch hit home run on Friday night and starter the rest of the weekend as the designated hitter. He and Coomes, who entered as a pinch hitter, collected two hits and two runs scored apiece in Saturday’s dramatic comeback. Coomes drove in one of LSU’s two runs in Sunday’s 2-0 win.
Mainieri said he inserted Coomes on Saturday because, with LSU trailing, he was willing to trade defense for a better bat. He then played well enough that the coach stuck with him Sunday.
Getting Romero into the lineup, he said, was about inserting another power threat to take some pressure off Greg Deichmann.
“I just thought we had to get another home run threat into the lineup,” Mainieri said. “Having Deichmann by himself puts an awful lot of pressure on him, so I gave Jordan a chance and boom, he pops one out the first time up. We get a run in one swing of the bat instead of having to get three singles to score a run.”
Mainieri didn’t make any grand lineup announcements regarding the two, but it stands to reason that both could play larger roles moving forward. If nothing else, they provide experienced bats and power off the bench.
Both veterans have battled nagging injuries and sporadic at-bats throughout the season. Romero had been bothered by a sore shoulder since last spring and sprained his ankle during preseason camp. Coomes has dealt with a lingering hip injury that’s required some treatment and time off.
Few things in sport are as difficult as pinch hitting. Stepping into the batter’s box cold, particularly against a pitcher with nasty stuff, can be daunting. The key, Coomes and Romero agree, is preparedness.
“Just try to stay locked in in the dugout as much as possible,” Coomes said. “Talking with guys that are playing and trying to find out things the pitcher is doing. Just watching those guys, seeing what they’re doing and taking as many mental notes as I can.
“It’s tough, but it’s part of coming off the bench. You just have to stay ready.”
The pair also credits their readiness to contribute to experience at the college level — something Coomes, Romero and Chris Reid all offer off the bench. Both Coomes and Romero played two years at LSUE, and Romero hit nine home runs in his first season at LSU last year.
Cliché as it may sounds, there’s also something to be said for having experience at having to grind through adversity to win baseball games. That’s something most of the blue chip high schoolers that a program like LSU signs have never had to face.
Romero recalls LSUE trailing 9-2 in the sixth inning of the national championship game before rallying back to win. They leaning on that experience Saturday night.
“The will to win,” Romero said. “That’s what I said the whole weekend. Even when we were down, it’s that we have the will to win. Me and Nick won a state championship together and a national championship at junior college, so we know that mindset. It was cool to do it together again.
“It doesn’t really matter what the scoreboard says as long as you get everyone on your team to believe. The will to win, it kind of takes over once everybody starts believing in it.”
– LSU will roll with the Johnny Wholestaff approach against the Ragin Cajuns on Tuesday. Matt Beck will start, Mainieri said, but “a lot” of pitchers will see mound time, just like last midweek.
– Caleb Gilbert wasn’t available for the entirety of the Arkansas series because of an illness, Mainieri said. Hunter Newman also wasn’t available Sunday after throwing 30 pitches Saturday. Mainieri said both could be available against UL-Lafayette.
It’s really good to see a couple of Baton Rouge guys thriving at LSU. Romero and Coomes are both proven winners, at the high school and junior college levels. I’m not sure what took Paul Mainieri so long to insert them in the lineup, but it’s clear they give the Tigers some needed pop at the plate. The sacrifice in defense is worth it in run support.