Tigers begin final weekend of pre-SEC play
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Paul Mainieri’s team heads into the final weekend of the pre-conference slate having won its last six games in a row.
His young lineup has pounded out double-digit hits each of its last seven contests. Moving Kramer Robertson to shortstop has settled the infield. Newcomers John Valek III and Caleb Gilbert have taken over the vacant No. 3 starter and closer jobs, respectively.
All in all the coach is satisfied with where LSU (10-2) through the first 12 games of the season. But coming off a postponement and with more severe weather threatening this weekend’s three-game series with Ball State (7-7), his chief concern shifts to maintaining that momentum.
“I don’t want to see us get stale,” Mainieri said. “I’m glad we got the game in Tuesday. I was really worried we wouldn’t have any midweek games and then be delayed Friday — not play until Saturday or Sunday. I think we’re improving. I believe very strongly that we’re improving each day. I think our team is gaining confidence.”
The plan as of now is for all three games to be played as schedule, but there are some contingency plans worth noting. If Friday night’s series opener is rained out, the preferred plan would be to play a double header Saturday.
If LSU and Ball State can only get one game in before Sunday, the two teams would then start a double header early in the morning and play two seven-inning games. There’s a 3:30 p.m. travel curfew in effect for Sunday, meaning no new inning can begin after that.
Regardless of how the weather shakes out, Mainieri said he’ll stick with a pitching rotation of Jared Poche’ (2-0, 0.92 ERA), Alex Lange (1-0, 4.15 ERA) and Valek (3-0, 2.03 ERA) in that order.
“I’m not going to play any games or anything like that,” Mainieri said. “Whoever is scheduled to start will start the game, and hopefully it’ll play out uninterrupted.”
He mentioned Lange’s ‘perceived struggles’ and the need for him to “tighten things up.” More on the ace from Mainieri and Alan Dunn in this notebook filed earlier in the week.
BRYCE JORDAN UPDATE
While Mainieri gave no official status, Bryce Jordan, sporting neither crutches nor a cast on his sprained ankle, declared himself ready to return to the lineup.
“I think I’ll be able to play this weekend,” Jordan said Thursday. “It’s just a matter of doing a lot of therapy. We have the best training staff in the nation, so I’m back and I’m ready to play.”
Along with receiving treatment, Jordan said he’s been hitting in the cages. While there’s been no definitive decision made, he’d most likely serve as the designated hitter if he were to be in the lineup this weekend.
Jordan collided with a photographer in the first half of Saturday’s double header against Fordham. He remained in the game but was a late scratch from the nightcap after feeling it tighten up between games. He missed Tuesday’s win against Louisiana Tech.
“I’m ready to play,” Jordan said. “If (Mainieri) will let me, I’m ready.”
Ball State will start left-hander Kevin Marnon (1-2, 4.24 ERA) opposite Poche’ on Friday night. The 6-foot-7 southpaw transferred to Akron before last season only to have to transfer again after the program disbanded over the summer.
While he never threw an official pitch for the Zips — he sat out per Division I transfer rules — Valek, the residing ace of the staff, took notice of what he saw in bullpen sessions and practice.
“He’s a good pitcher,” Valek said. “He probably would have been in our weekend rotation at Akron if the program hadn’t been disbanded. He’s a big guy, a lefty. From what I saw, he’s good. We’re going to have a little challenge against us.”
The two have been texting back and forth this week.
Despite the first-hand insight, as of Thursday afternoon, Valek had yet to be approached by his offensive teammates clamoring for a scouting report.
“I’m not sure if I’ve told that many guys,” Valek laughed. “They’re good enough to figure it out, but if they ask me, I’ll tell them something.”
He also enjoys an insight into the opposing lineup, having the faced the MAC rival in all three of his seasons at Akron. It creates an interesting challenge for the man emerging as arguably LSU’s most reliable third starter in years.
“Those guys are going to be familiar with me, but I’m going to be familiar with them,” Valek said. “I know some of their tendencies. Not so much like specific with guys, but with this being my fourth time facing them, I understand their approach.”
LSU – Jr. LHP Jared Poche’ (2-0, 0.92 ERA, 19.2 IP, 8 BB, 18 SO)
Ball State – Sr. LHP Kevin Marnon (1-2, 4.00 ERA, 18.0 IP, 6 BB 12 SO)
LSU – So. RHP Alex Lange (1-0, 4.15 ERA, 17.1 IP, 9 BB, 25 SO)
Ball State – Jr. RHP Zach Plesac (0-1, 6.23 ERA, 13.0 IP, 6 BB, 12 SO) OR So. RHP Colin Brockhouse (1-1, 2.57 ERA, 14.0 IP, 6 BB, 11 SO)
LSU – Sr. LHP John Valek III (3-0, 2.04 ERA, 17.2 IP, 1 BB, 16 SO)
Ball State – So. RHP Brendan Burns (2-0, 2.20 ERA, 16.1 IP, 6 BB, 18 SO)
Friday, March 11 – 7 p.m. CT
Saturday, March 12 – 2 p.m. CT
Sunday, March 13 – 12 p.m. CT
Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field in Baton Rouge, La.
LSU – No. 6 by Perfect Game; No. 7 by Baseball America; No. 7 by D1 Baseball; No. 8 by USA Today; No. 10 by Collegiate Baseball
Ball State – unranked
LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates (WDGL 98.1 FM in Baton Rouge – if LSU men’s basketball is competing in the SEC Tournament on Saturday and Sunday, the baseball games will air on WTGE 100.7 FM on those days)
LSUsports.net – live audio and live stats
SEC Network + – accessible at WatchESPN.com and the WatchESPN app
Friday’s game will mark the first meeting between LSU and Ball State. LSU is 18-6 all-time against current members of the Mid-American Conference. The Tigers are 2-0 versus Central Michigan, 0-1 versus Kent State, 12-5 versus Northern Illinois, 3-0 versus Ohio and 1-0 versus Toledo.
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