The LSU Tigers were a dynasty. Yep, were. Well, perhaps they still are, just in a different sport.
Before all the crazed Tiger football faithful get too upset, I was referring to the Tiger baseball team when using that awful “were” word. We are all aware that the LSU Tiger football team is holding its own, but the baseball team is starting back at the bottom and looking to start the uphill climb.
First, for those new to the college baseball world, let me give you a brief history lesson behind Tiger baseball legacy. Five National Championships (in 10 years), 13 SEC Championships, 13 College World Series appearances in past 22 years, 21 NCAA Tournament Berths (17 of last 19 seasons), .721 winning percent in NCAA Tournament (highest all-time), 9–50 win seasons (only SEC team with more than four), and has lead the USA in attendance for 12 straight years.
A once dominant force on the baseball diamond, it has been anything but sparkling over the past few years. After the retirement of Skip Bertman, Tiger baseball has slipped significantly. Although “Smoke” Laval was able to lead the Tigers to the College World Series twice, they were 0-4 in those appearances, sending the Tigers home before unpacking their luggage. In just his second season as the man in charge of Tiger baseball, Paul Mainieri has made steps to make this season his own.
After brining in the No.1 ranked recruiting class this off-season, Coach Mainieri has continued to help refocus this once dominant baseball program. You won’t recognize many names on the LSU roster from last year, but many of these players have already begun to make a name for themselves 13 games into the season. Here is a quick look at the 2008 LSU baseball team.
Second baseman Ryan Schimpf, a sophomore from Covington, LA, leads the Tigers at the plate with a batting average of .404. He has 19 hits in 47 at bats, including four doubles, one triple and three homeruns. Schimpf has only struck out 6 times in 12 games.
First baseman Matt Clark, a Junior College transfer from Fontana, CA, leads the Tigers with six homeruns in 45 at bats. He has 17 hits, 2 doubles, 18 RBIs, but has struck out 12 times.
Outfielder Blake Dean, a sophomore from Crestview, FL, has 17 hits in 47 at bats, 17 RBIs and 8 strike outs. He leads the Tigers with nine walks.
Outfielder Jared Mitchell is five of six in the stolen base department. For those that recognize that name, he was a wide receiver on the 2007 National Championship football team. Outfielder Leon Landry is three of four in stolen bases, as a team the Tigers have only been caught five times in 27 attempts.
Third baseman Michael Hollander, a senior from Mandeville, LA, has 13 hits in 40 at bats, but leads the Tigers with eight errors in 14 games. The Tigers have already racked up 17 errors in 14 games.
The Tigers have outscored their opponents 114 to 53 through 14 games. Matt Clark hit two homeruns in one inning against Duquesne. That same inning the Tigers hit back-to-back-to-back homers.
The Tigers also had back-to-back homers in the third game of the Duquesne series. Ryan Schimpf had lead off homers in both the second and third games of the Duquesne series. The Tigers have 20 homeruns through 14 games; the Tigers only hit 40 in the entire 2007 season.
RHP Jared Bradford, a senior from Hueytown, AL, has seen the most work on the mound for the Tigers, pitching 18 2/3 innings, giving up only 17 hits, three earned runs, six walks and 24 strikeouts. He has not given up a homer and is 3-0 in four appearances, and opponents are batting .236 against him.
LHP Ryan Verdugo, a Junior College transfer from Lake Stevens, WA, has pitched 15 innings, giving up only nine hits, four runs, eight walks and 18 strikeouts. He is a perfect 3-0 in three appearances and opponents are batting .176 against him.
RHP Jordan Brown, a Junior College transfer from Luling, LA, has appeared in four games and is 2-0. In 14 1/3 innings of work, he has given up 15 hits, seven runs, eight walks and struck out 12. Opponents are batting .273 against him.
In 117 innings, Tiger pitching has only given up four homeruns, have struck out 111, walked 44, given up 112 hits, 47 runs.
The Tigers are set to open SEC play in Knoxville against the Tennessee Volunteers on Friday night. The Volunteers enter the series at 9-4 and are coming off a 10-inning victory over Presbyterian College.
Their four losses came against Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Morehead State, and James Madison. The Vols have had to go into extra innings twice this season, winning both, including an 8-7 victory over Eastern Michigan. The Tigers are 11-3 overall, coming off back-to-back losses against Stetson and Southeastern Louisiana.
The Vols are batting only .273 as a team with seven homeruns, 104 strikeouts and 48 walks. All eyes will be on Kentrail Davis, a freshman outfielder, who is leading the team with 16 hits in 38 at bats (.474 batting average).
The Volunteers have only outscored opponents by 7 runs (63-56). LSU leads the series 43-16 all time, and Tennessee is 0-3 against LSU in SEC openers. It appears the basketball team is getting all the viewers, the baseball team only averages 1,052 fans per home game, compared to an average of 7,354 for the Tigers. Maybe the Tiger faithful will help bring that average up for the Vols this weekend. Look for the Tigers to easily take the series, and a sweep would not be out of the question.
Side note: It could be a double-header for the Tigers and Vols on Friday, if the Tigers beat South Carolina in the first round of the SEC basketball tournament today, they would face Tennessee tomorrow at 1:00PM (noon central). Tennessee and LSU are no strangers lately, the Tigers beat the Vols to win the SEC Football Championship and the Lady Tigers beat the Lady Vols in Knoxville on their way to winning the SEC Championship.
The Vols beat the Tigers in Baton Rouge in men’s basketball and the Lady Vols returned the favor by knocking off the Lady Tigers to claim the SEC Tournament Championship last Sunday.