Before addressing the series that’ll begin Friday night at Alex Box Stadium, LSU coach Paul Mainieri ran through a brief history lesson touching on some of the biggest moments in the history of the LSU-Alabama rivalry.
It began with LSU’s triumph in the 1997 College World Series Finals and continued on through some of the epic battles between his Tigers and the Crimson Tide in recent years. Each and every one of the game stuck in his photographic memory for being hard fought down to the bitter end.
His point was a simple one: LSU (29-20, 12-12 Southeastern Conference) isn’t going to be taking last-place Alabama (25-25, 6-18 SEC) lightly this weekend.
“Everybody wants to look at their record and say Alabama is last in the SEC, but I don’t look at it that way,” Mainieri said. “The team with the worst record in the SEC is still filled with SEC-caliber baseball players.
“If anybody wants to write that LSU is going to wallop Alabama this weekend … you can write what you want, but I don’t see it that way. Nothing is going to come easy. This is a very formidable opponent.”
Despite the woeful league record, Alabama has played hard under first-year coach Brad Bohannon throughout a transitional year for the once-stories program. Mainieri added that he considers Bohannon to be one of the great up-and-coming coaches in the country.
Be that as it may, LSU rides a three-game winning streak into the weekend with a golden opportunity to gain ground in the SEC West.
First-place Arkansas, currently two games clear of LSU, hosts Texas A&M, which is tied for fourth place with LSU. Auburn and Ole Miss, presently tied for second-place in the West, will play a three-game series in Oxford.
What that means: if LSU wins its series or potentially sweeps Alabama, it’ll gain ground on at least two of the teams that’re ahead of them in the SEC pecking order.
LET’S GO TO THE TAPE
Ace Zack Hess and LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn spent hours studying film this week trying to figure out what was tipping his pitches to Arkansas during his start last week.
It’s the second time this season Hess has dealt with tipping his pitches. He corrected the tell that gave his slider away against Vanderbilt, and after hours of watching film study, all parties involved are confident they have identified and corrected what it was that Arkansas picked up on.
“It was tough,” Hess said. “It was something really small. But I think we ended up getting it and that shouldn’t be a problem anymore.”
“You can’t even believe how small a thing they picked up,” Mainieri added.
Hess and Dunn worked on correcting the tell during a side session earlier this week. Without giving it away, it’s not something mechanical or a correction that should any way impact his ability to execute pitches.
“I don’t think it’s anything that’s going to keep me from doing what I need to do,” Hess said. “We worked on it this week in bullpen sessions and side sessions, so I think we nipped it in the bud pretty quick.”
It may seem farfetched to the casual observer that a top-of-the-line pitcher would have to deal with tipping his pitches in two different ways in so short a time span, but it actually makes sense.
Every LSU game is televised or streamed online in one form or another, making it easy for teams to go to school on any one player. If anything, it’s a testament to how far advanced scouting has come in the upper levels of college baseball.
“A blessing and a curse of playing at LSU is that you’re always going to be on national TV,” Hess said. “So if a team wants to get film on you, we’re kind of the most susceptible to that because we’re always playing on TV and it’s very easy to get access to the film.”
LSU will honor four players when it puts on Senior Day ceremonies prior to Sunday’s game, even though one of the quartet is expected back next season.
Austin Bain, Nick Coomes and Beau Jordan are all seniors playing their final games at Alex Box Stadium, and redshirt-junior Bryce Jordan will be honored alongside his twin brother.
Bryce is expected back for his senior season, Mainieri said, but the coach gave him the option to go through Senior Day with his brother or wait and do it next season. Bryce elected to be honored Sunday with the entire Jordan clan expected to be in attendance.
“It’s pretty cool,” Beau said. “Especially for our family. It’s been a long four years, but you look back at it and it’s been pretty cool. We’re counting down the days now.”
LSU – So. RH Zack Hess (6-4, 4.04 ERA, 71.1 IP, 32 BB, 85 SO)
UA – Jr. RH Sam Finnerty (4-3, 4.82 ERA, 74.2 IP, 30 BB, 72 SO)
LSU – Fr. RH Ma’Khail Hilliard (8-3, 3.10 ERA, 61.0 IP, 21 BB, 58 SO)
UA – Sr. RH Jake Walters (2-5, 4.57 ERA, 65.0 IP, 30 BB, 72 SO)
LSU – Fr. RH AJ Labas (6-1, 2.98 ERA, 51.1 IP, 6 BB, 31 SO)
UA – Fr. LH Garret Rukes (1-2, 2.84 ERA, 25.1 IP, 12 BB, 21 SO)
Friday, May 11 – 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 12 – 7 p.m. CT
Sunday, May 13 – 2 p.m. CT
Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field (10,326)
LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates, including WDGL 98.1 FM in Baton Rouge
SEC Network + – accessible at WatchESPN.com and the Watch ESPN app
Saturday’s game will be televised on the SEC Network
Alabama leads the all-time series with LSU,196-170-3, and the first meeting between the squads occurred in 1906. LSU swept three games from the Crimson Tide last season in Tuscaloosa. LSU has won 10 of its last 13 SEC regular-season series versus the Tide — Alabama, however, posted a 2-1 series victory over LSU in its last visit to Baton Rouge in 2016. The Tigers have won 15 of the 19 games played between the schools over the past six seasons