Tigers and Rebels part of five-way tie for fourth in SEC
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Kramer Robertson remembers his first visit to Swayze Field well.
A rookie second baseman at the time, Robertson and the rest of the veteran-laden infield gathered on the mound as Alan Dunn came out to chat with Aaron Nola.
“I remember being a little freshman feeling like I was a deer in the headlights,” Robertson said. “Probably the first where I was like wow. ESPN game. Friday night game. I couldn’t even hear AD on the mound when he was yelling two feet away from me.”
Robertson, now the veteran leader of a young team, leads LSU back to Oxford for the start of a pivotal SEC West showdown set to begin Thursday night.
And with the two rivals presently locked in a five-way tie for fourth place at 10-8 in the SEC, the atmosphere figures to be equally electric given both league and regional seeding considerations are on the line.
“Coming back as a vet, I’m excited to play in that environment again,” Robertson said. “It’s something I’m looking forward to, and it’s something I want to prepare the younger guys for so they don’t feel how I felt, because I was a little bit overwhelmed as a freshman.”
Despite their relative inexperience, Paul Mainieri’s group has fared pretty well away from the friendly — albeit pressure packed — confines of Alex Box Stadium.
LSU lost its road opener in heart-breaking fashion to a veteran Lamar club that slugged its way out of an early 8-0 hole. They went on the road the following midweek and defeated Nicholls State. Though it was a neutral site game, the Tigers also defeated UL-Lafayette at the Wally Pontiff Classic at Zephyr Field.
They arguably been better in conference play. LSU, struggling mightily at the time, held its own in losing two of three to a heavily-favored Texas A&M. Since then LSU has taken five of its six league contests on the road from Auburn and Missouri.
“Sometimes, when they’re young kids here, the old Intimidator out there in right field can intimidate our kids more than it intimidates the other team,” Mainieri said. “The expectations are so high here and there’s a lot of pressure on these kids. Sometimes, when they get away from the Box, they relax and play a little bit better.”
That poise has seemed to wane of late, regardless of venue. LSU comes into the Ole Miss having lost three of its last four games, with unearned runs scored as a result of head-scratching errors figuring prominently in all three defeats.
The latest came Tuesday night in the form of a 4-1 loss to Tulane before a record-setting crowd of 5,215 at Turchin Stadium. LSU’s lineup once again couldn’t solve J.P. France, and for the second time in three games, Greg Deichmann was charged with a catching error at first base that allowed a run to score.
“Last night was inconsistent with what we’ve been doing on the road,” Mainieri said. “My concern obviously is that Tulane was a pretty hostile environment. Well, so is Swayze Field. I compare Tulane and Ole Miss as very similar places to play. They don’t like us very much at either place, quite frankly.”
Errors are bound to happen, but what’s been troubling for LSU is the fact the recent string of miscues have been of the mental variety. A first baseman not keeping his foot on the bag. A second baseman trying to be too quick and dropping a double play flip with recording a single out.
Those are the kind of mistakes that can snowball in a hurry and, as Mainieri pointed out last weekend, can be the difference in typically close-played league games.
“You’ve got to have a short memory,” Robertson said. “Errors are going to happen. They’re a part of the game. But I think you’ve got to limit the bad, bad ones that just can’t happen.”
“It’s just a focus thing,” Deichmann said. “We’re all talented. We’re all capable of making every play that we’ve made errors on. I guess it’s just a focus thing.”
From a personnel standpoint, Mainieri didn’t tip his hand as far as a plan for who will play first base this weekend. He expressed confidence in Deichmann’s abilities, though he added that Bryce Jordan and Brody Wofford were also in the mix.
Mainieri replaced Deichmann with Wofford after the former struck out in the seventh inning Tuesday night, which extended his current hitting slump to 1-for-16 with five strikeouts.
“Part of growing up as a player and maturing as a player is learning to leave your bat in the dugout and go play defense when you’re asked to go play defense,” Mainieri said. “He’s had a couple of defensive mistakes, and it happens to be in the middle of when he’s in a tough hitting stretch. You hope that’s just a coincidence, but if it’s not, he’s not taking enough pride in his defense.”
Deichmann added: “It can get to that point where it gets frustrating when both sides aren’t really going for you, but you’ve got to try to separate the two. You’ve got to separate the field and separate your at-bats. That’s the biggest thing to work on and I’m working on that right now.”