With the Eagles flying south once more to escape the ninety foot snow banks in Boston, we sat down with PodKATT of And The Valley Shook. The SBN blog for the LSU Tigers does some cover-to-cover coverage of the baseball program, so head on over to their site to get ready to play two on Friday and one on Saturday.
BC Interruption: It seems like every year, LSU is one of those teams automatically in the top five in the nation. They're expected to compete for national titles, and they've been to the tournament each of the last three seasons. What has been the key to their success, and what is it about this team that keeps them coming back year after year?
And The Valley Shook: LSU baseball is one of the more unique stories in college sports: a blue blood that barely existed 30 years ago. LSU's been playing baseball since the 1890's, but for all that history, had only a handful of SEC championships and a single NCAA appearance to its name. That all changed with the hiring of Hall of Famer Skip Bertman in 1984. Within 2 years, LSU would become a College World Series regular and by 1991, a confluence of slagging football and hoops teams, amazing talent, and the aluminum explosion turned Tiger baseball into the hottest thing on campus. 6 National Championships and 20 straight years of holding the NCAA attendance later, LSU baseball has arguably a bigger following than any minor league team in the country. There are even some nights in the spring where Alex Box Stadium will out-draw Cleveland or Oakland on the same night.
And that's really the story. It's a beast that feeds itself. LSU can go to a kid and say, "You could sign out of high school and get your bonus check and then spend 3-5 years playing in front of 1500 people in Peoria, or you can come to LSU, spend 3 years playing in front of 10K+ every night, in some of the best facilities in the country, and make yourself into a high draft pick that's fast tracked to the bigs." LSU has had at least 1 guy go in at least the 2nd round every year since 2009. That kind of production draws the talent in easy, which in turn leads to the great success and huge crowds.
BCI: Last season ended with back-to-back losses to Houston in the Regional Final round after beating them in the second round. What happened in those two games that allowed the Cougars to beat LSU in Baton Rouge?
ATVS: *sigh* You know, most of us are still trying to figure out what went wrong. LSU almost had that first game won, too. A huge fielding mistake in front of the student section in the right field corner had given LSU an early lead and had the place rocking. But credit to Houston as they were not fazed by it at all. They just kept chipping away and our relief pitching that had been on a tear the previous month suddenly wasn't dependable. The 3rd game was just a slaughter from the word go. Aside from having what turned out to be a very underrated pitching staff, the biggest thing Houston had going for them was an unbeatable confidence. It was a team that had spent the whole year stealing midweek upsets at the big clubs around Texas, and by the time they got to Baton Rouge, they weren't going to be intimidated by anyone.
BCI: This year's lineup looks loaded. Who are some of the names BC fans should keep an eye on at the dish?
ATVS: Alex Bregman is easily the first name fort his squad you'll hear called at the Draft this year. A sure 1st round pick out of high school until a hand injury his senior year, he told the world he would be going to LSU if he wasn't still picked in the first round. MLB bristled and he turned down a lot of money to spend three years proving they'd made a mistake. A defensive star at SS and easily the team captain if LSU did that sort of thing, the kid has a work ethic like you wouldn't believe. After a stellar national freshman of the year campaign in 2013 where he batted .369 in the middle of a loaded lineup, he had a bit of a sophomore slump last season, including a hitless streak that seemed to drag on forever, but he came out of it more focused and will be looking to make himself into a 1st round pick again.
Around the rest of the lineup, there's speedy outfielder Mark Laird, who can consistently outrun his own bunts and is a nightmare on the base paths, and catcher Kade Scivicque, who in this early part of the season looks to be our best power hitter.
BCI: The pitching staff is entering life without Aaron Nola this year. Who will start this week, and what are the scouting reports on those guys?
ATVS: Starters announced are (in order) Poche', Lange, and Godfrey. Poche' is the steady "old hand" of the rotation. He's not going to wow anyone, but his steady consistency is why he's there. He'll eat up a lot of innings letting the defense do most of the work. Lange and Godfrey are two freshmen who are part of a class with five big arms in it. These two rose to the top in the fall and for now have two of the weekend starting jobs. Lange is a big righty with a mid-90s FB and reliable variety. He earned SEC Freshman of the Week against Kansas with five shutout innings. Godfrey's also got a FB that'll hit 94 and a really great curve. His mistakes behind him take most of that blame. I look forward to him having a better outing this week.
BCI: Boston College is going to face an atmosphere unlike anything they normally see this weekend. How big of an advantage is that for the Tigers?
ATVS: It's huge. The crowds at Alex Box are smart baseball fans mixed with typical LSU insanity, and it's just a fantastic atmosphere. The only reservation I have is the weather threat and rescheduled games (moving Sunday's game to Friday afternoon) may keep a few folks away, but I expect the Friday night game to be rocking as always. It won't be impossible for Boston College to get a win, but the crowd will do everything possible to make sure that doesn't happen.
BCI: What were some of the things LSU did well against Kansas, and what are some of the things they had for holes to work on heading into this week?
ATVS: LSU hit well for it being early in the season and Kansas having some underrated pitching, and defense in the outfield was pretty good. Weakness right now I'd say would be a couple of suspect arms in the middle relief and an error bug that's hit the infield defense pretty hard the last two games. With some of the young starting arms we have, giving them confidence that they've got a steady infield behind them will do wonders to help them adjust to this level and it's not happening yet. More than anything, I want to see some mistake-free ball this weekend.
BCI: What are the odds you have a place to dump some snow?
ATVS: With highs expected in the 70s, I'm sure our snowball stands on the concourse will be open this weekend.