LSU Tigers: Paul Mainieri

GTN writers Gary Laney and David Helman answer your questions in this week's mailbag. You can send questions to glaneyespn@gmail.com or helmanespn@gmail.com or their Twitter accounts, helmanespn or glaneyespn.

Today, they'll discuss:

1. Recruiting grades

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BATON ROUGE – It's odd that on a weekend when LSU will play the role of the college baseball version of the New York Yankees, the underdog in the story will come from the Empire State.

While LSU (46-16), the six-time national champion and No. 7 national seed, will be the heavy favorite for its Super Regional matchup against upstart Stony Brook at Alex Box Stadium, the Tigers are hardly thinking of the America East Conference champion as the No. 4 seed that caught lightning in a bottle to win the Coral Gables, Fla., regional last week.

"I wouldn't even call them an underdog or a four seed," LSU shortstop Austin Nola said. "I look at them as a No. 1 seed, like us. They are just as good as us. They have great players on their side and they have a lot of talent."

While LSU fans who are considering making it out to the ballpark for the 11 a.m., made-for-TV start times for the first two games of the Super Regional might never have heard of Stony Brook, baseball people certainly have. The Seawolves (50-12) have the most victories of any team in college baseball and the most in the nation in the last two seasons (92).

LSU coach Paul Mainieri pointed out that seven Stony Brook players were drafted in the MLB First-Year Player Draft earlier this week, two more than those drafted from LSU.

Mainieri said Tigers fans might not fully appreciate it. He said the media will play up the underdog storyline. His team, however, has the proper respect.

"If they beat us, it will be because they outplayed us," Mainieri said, "and not because we take them lightly."

Nola played in the Cape Cod League last summer, playing with and against six Seawolves, including three Cape Cod League all-stars. Not only did Stony Brook's players impress Nola and other Tigers on the Cape, it gave Seawolves players confidence that they could compete with big-name, Sun Belt programs. In Coral Cables, Stony Brook beat Miami, Missouri State and Central Florida.

"With a half dozen of our guys playing in the cape last year, I think they've gotten into a comfort zone that 'these guys are very much like ourselves,' " Stony Brook coach Matt Senk said. "With a half dozen guys there, three making the all-star team and one being asked to be in the home run derby, they became very comfortable with their level of play and their abilities."

It's translated into a season in which the Seawolves have hit .336 as a team, and they haven't just been piling on against weak competition. Stony Brook scored 50 runs in the Coral Gables Regional. The Seawolves have eight regulars hitting better than .300, led by center fielder Travis Jankowski (.417), a supplemental first-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres this week.

They'll face LSU's outstanding pitching staff. Tigers ace Kevin Gausman (11-1, 272 ERA), the No. 4 overall pick in the draft by Baltimore, will get the Saturday start against Stony Brook's No. 1, right-hander Tyler Johnson (11-1, 2.13). Both aces had their starts pushed back a day after extensive regional work. Johnson started twice in Coral Gables, the second on two days' rest. Gausman threw a season-high 129 pitches in his win Saturday over Oregon State.

On Friday, LSU will start freshman right-hander Aaron Nola (7-4, 3.66) against Stony Brook sophomore Brandon McNitt (8-3, 2.69).

Early start won't bother Tigers

June, 5, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. – There's nothing like sipping your morning coffee around the batting cage.

That's what LSU and Stony Brook will be doing this weekend for their Super Regional series at Alex Box Stadium. The series has drawn the early start for ESPN2 with Friday and Saturday games starting at 11 a.m. and the if-necessary game on Sunday scheduled for noon.

For the players, the early start matters little.

"We played at 9:30 in the morning (at the SEC tournament), but once we toed it up, you forget what time of day it is," shortstop Austin Nola said. "Our mentality was, we're going to beat these guys no matter what. That's the mentality. Once you get on the field, you're ready to go."

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Goody "electric" for Tigers

June, 4, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU closer Nick Goody slumped before the Baton Rouge regional, but in two shutout innings in two days, the right-hander had fantastic stuff.

He struck out the side in the 10th inning in Sunday's 6-5, 10-inning win over Oregon State for his 11th save of the season, setting up the Beavers hitters with hard fastballs, then finishing them off with nasty sliders on all three third strikes.

"He was electric," said Oregon State closer Scott Schultz, who was pretty good in his own right in 8 2/3 innings of splendid relief work for OSU in the loss. "He spotted his fast ball and his slider was pretty good. But he spotted his fastball, just like a major leaguer."

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Long climb back for OSU, ULM

June, 3, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU coach Paul Mainieri summed up the stakes in LSU's 7-1 win over Oregon State Saturday quite nicely.

"These kids didn't need any more pressure on them than they already have, so I didn't tell them until after the game was over that the difference of winning this game was the difference of having to win one more game or three more games," Manieri said. "It's pretty significant."

By winning, the Tigers (45-16) are in great shape heading into the championship round, getting two chances to win one game that will wrap up the the Baton Roug regional.

They'll sit back and watch Oregon State and Louisiana-Monroe play the 1:30 p.m. elimination game. After the Beavers and Warhawks go through nine innings of pitching staff depletion, LSU will be there waiting with weekend starter Ryan Eades (5-2, 3.36) ready to go against whatever the winner of the ULM-OSU game has left.

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BATON ROUGE, La. – With the top seeds holding serve in the first day of the Baton Rouge regional Friday at Alex Box Stadium, it set the stage for an early NCAA tournament meeting of national powers.

No. 7 LSU (44-16), the region's top seed, will face No. 17 Oregon State (39-18), the tourney's No. 2 seed. The pair have won three of the last six national championships and their conferences have won five of the last six national titles.

"It's SEC vs. Pac-12," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "That's a big game."

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Ty Ross is on quite the recovery timetable, given how his month has gone.

[+] EnlargeTy Ross
Andrew Woolley/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesTy Ross has returned to the field faster than expected after surgery.
As No. 7 LSU (43-16) gears up for the its NCAA tournament opener on Friday against Louisiana-Monroe, the Tigers' defensive lynchpin at catcher expects to start at least three, if not four or five games in the coming days. That in itself shouldn't be surprising for a mainstay with 48 starts on the season and a .305 batting average.

It's a little more impressive when one considers that just about three weeks ago, Ross underwent an emergency appendectomy during LSU's weekend series against conference foe Vanderbilt. When he woke up ahead of that weekend's Saturday game, Ross knew something was wrong.

"Breathing hurt, moving hurt, riding in a car over a bump hurt -- coughing was miserable," he said. "I just knew it wasn't right that morning, and I kind of had an idea it was appendicitis just because of where it was."

Because of his recovery period, the sophomore didn't pick up a bat until last week's SEC tournament as a pinch hitter against Mississippi State. He returned to catching the next day against Ole Miss, and as the postseason begins, Ross said he's ready to go the distance.

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On Monday, LSU might be playing to continue its baseball season.

But its most notable player will also be getting his name called on the first day of Baseball's First-Year Player Draft.

Kevin Gausman, the LSU right-hander who will pitch Saturday, is likely to be among the first picks, if not the first pick, when the draft starts Monday.

"Hopefully, we'll all be together Monday night to watch it, but for a positive reason," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said Thursday after his team held a brief practice before Friday's start of the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional.

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Rhymes a bargain for LSU

May, 30, 2012
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As far as bang for your buck, Raph Rhymes has to be the best deal in college baseball.

He is the best player in the mighty Southeastern Conference, at least in the eyes of the league's coaches who named him SEC Player of the Year on Tuesday.

He's also the nation's leading hitter, at .459, 29 points better than the second-best hitter.

And what does this cost LSU?

This season, nothing.

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Nola gets start on Friday

May, 29, 2012
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With media gathered at LSU's Alex Box Stadium Tuesday wondering who would get the nod on the mound for the Tigers in Friday's Baton Rouge regional opener against Louisiana-Monroe, the giveaway answer was down the right field line.

Freshman right-hander Aaron Nola was getting his bullpen work in with pitching coach Alan Dunn during a time when it's usually Friday night starter Kevin Gausman getting the work.

Indeed, it will be Nola (6-4, 3.93 ERA), and not staff ace Gausman, who will get the start when No. 7 LSU (43-16) opens the regional against No. 4 seed Louisiana-Monroe (31-28) at 7 p.m. CT on Friday. Nola, who pitched a pre-planned two innings in a Wednesday start against Mississippi State at the SEC tournament, should be fresh and ready to go, head coach Paul Mainieri said.

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HOOVER, Ala. -- For the LSU Tigers, the descent was gradual against Mississippi State on Friday afternoon. The three-run lead the Tigers clung to for eight innings slipped away inch by inch.

In the ninth inning, the grip that looked so firm loosened. LSU's ordinarily reliable closer Nick Goody came on in what was to be the final frame of the game and was helpless to hold the lead. A double, a pair of singles and a sacrifice fly pulled the Bulldogs from Starkville, Miss., even at 3-3.

In the bottom of the 10th, the pressure became too much. With one out and Goody still on the mound, Mississippi State coach John Cohen walked up to the home plate umpire and spent several minutes looking over the lineup. LSU coach Paul Mainieri fumed as Goody was forced to wait. And then, after standing around for several minutes, the next batter hit a double, followed by a single off the glove of second baseman JaCoby Jones that sealed LSU’s fate, bringing home the game-winning run for Mississippi State, 4-3.

“It’s a very tough loss for us,” Mainieri said. “It was a game we seemingly had in hand. ... Unfortunately, it just didn’t go our way.”

Mainieri said he wasn’t pleased with the layoff his pitcher faced in the 10th inning.

“John had made some changes and somehow the umpire was confused about what changes were actually made,” Mainieri said. "He didn’t want somebody batting out of order, and quite frankly I was a little irritated.

“Our pitcher is out there trying to pitch and all of a sudden he’s got to stand there on the mound for several minutes -- like icing a free throw.”

The fifth-year coach of the Tigers admitted, though, that it was somewhat the fault of his offense for failing to score from the second inning on.

LSU starting pitcher Ryan Eades walked the tightrope for six innings, walking four batters and giving up four hits without surrendering a single run. While designated hitter Ty Ross praised Eades work on the mound, Mainieri was bullish about his erratic performance.

“He looked good and he was definitely pounding the zone better,” Ross said. “He just seemed more confident.”

Mainieri rebuffed him, saying, “I wasn’t as upbeat about Ryan’s performance as they were. His command was not very good.”

As down as Mainieri and the rest of the team was, being bounced from the SEC tournament is not the end of the Tigers’ road. Mainieri said the loss is a tough pill to swallow, but it was important to remember the trip to Hoover was just the beginning.

“We’ll analyze it, put it in the rear-view mirror, and get ready for next week,” Mainieri said. “Obviously, next week is what really matters as we go forward.”

LSU will learn where it will play in the NCAA tournament on Monday.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Maybe the bats had jetlag. The LSU Tigers rebounded form a sleepy offensive performance in their first day at the SEC baseball tournament to recover and jolt the Ole Miss Rebels less than 24 hours later, 11-2.

“There was a pretty determined group of kids in our dugout today,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who told his players yesterday that it was their decision whether they wanted to go home or stay in Hoover to play another day.

Despite the early start, with first pitch coming at 9:30 a.m., the Tigers came out ready to play at Regions Park against Ole Miss. LSU struck for two runs in the first inning and held the lead from then on. Three players had multiple runs batted in and eight batters combined for 17 hits.

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LSU falls 3-2 to State

May, 23, 2012
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HOOVER, Ala. -- The way Mississippi State starting pitcher Chris Stratton threw from the hill at Regions Park, LSU getting two runs was an accomplishment. But a pair of runs in the fifth inning wasn’t enough for the Tigers as they fell to Mississippi State in the second round of the SEC baseball tournament, 3-2.

“Stratton is really good,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “He’s clearly not only one of the best pitchers in the SEC, but one of the best pitchers in the country. I have a lot of respect for the kid. He’s very good.”

Stratton has faced LSU a number of times in his career and came out on top more often than not.

“I’m about ready for him to go into professional baseball so we don’t have to face him anymore,” Mainieri.

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OF Sciambra out for season 

March, 26, 2012
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LSU is headed for the toughest stretch of its baseball schedule and will have to play that stretch, and the rest of its schedule, without its starting center fielder.

Freshman Chris Sciambra was lost for the season after breaking a vertebrae in his neck in a collision with the center field wall Sunday in LSU's 4-3 win over Auburn.

The university announced the injury - a non-displaced fracture of the C-1 vertebrae in his neck - Monday. An LSU news release said his spinal column was not affected by the injury.

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LSU gets Barbe flavor with Butler 

March, 19, 2012
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Lake Charles' Barbe High School has been one of the Louisiana's premier producers of baseball talent, but LSU has not always been able to tap into the best Barbe's had to offer.

Perhaps that's changing.

LSU recently landed a commitment from fast-improving Bucs senior right-hander Taylor Butler, who followed a solid summer with a fast start for a 17-2 Barbe team. Butler committed to LSU March 11 after a couple of recent starts where he's thrown 90 mph fastballs, touched 92 mph on some pitches and displayed an element that he said was his biggest improvement.

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