More than ten days since LSU lost to Florida in the CWS Championship Series, coach Paul Mainieri still showed the effects of the defeat.
AP Photo/Butch Dill
“It still stings when you are so close to winning it all,” said Mainieri, in an exclusive interview with TigerBait.com. “The frustration for not finishing is still prevalent. It is no fun to get to the finals and get beat. But, when I reflect on the season, I feel good on what the kids accomplished.”
The Tigers won every available title except for the last one. LSU won the Southeastern Conference Western Division, shared the overall SEC title, won the Baton Rouge Regional and the Baton Rouge Super-Regional series and won its bracket at the College World Series.
However, the Tigers dropped back-to-back games with Florida, who shared the regular-season SEC championship with them.
“It hurts more when you lose winnable games,” Mainieri said. “It wasn’t like we lost to a team which was definitely better. You wonder if Eric Walker was healthy how he would have matched up with Brady Singer. Then, it was a fluke when we didn’t score in the seventh or eighth innings in the second game.”
Mainieri’s 11th season at LSU was one of his best. The Tigers finished 52-20 and won more than one game at the CWS for just the second time in their five appearances under Mainieri.
“The program is very healthy,” Mainieri said. “We have good recruits lined up for the next few classes. The players are doing better in the classroom. They are doing a lot of community service work. The players enjoy playing in the program.”
The normal challenge will be there for Mainieri when fall practice begins – developing a team which can advance to the CWS in Omaha. LSU has made back-to-back trips to the College World Series just once in Mainieri’s tenure – 2008-09.
The Tigers will be minus eight major contributors from this year’s squad – four position players and four pitchers. The everyday players are Greg Deichmann, Cole Freeman, Michael Papierski and Kramer Robertson. The pitchers are Alex Lange, Hunter Newman, Jared Poche and Eric Walker.
Mainieri expected to be without seven of those eight players. The exception is Walker, who will undergo Tommy John surgery this week and miss the 2018 season. So, LSU must replace its entire weekend rotation and establish a closer – the four most critical spots on a pitching staff.
“We have so many questions, especially with our pitching staff for next year,” Mainieri said. “Our pitching staff is not much different from where we were with our position players two years ago. The most valuable person is (pitching coach Alan Dunn). He must make some serious magic.
“(Zack) Hess and (Caleb) Gilbert will play vital roles. Nick Bush is making some progress. (Austin) Bain has been inconsistent. (Todd) Peterson floundered at the end when his shoulder was not right. (Matthew) Beck had some moments. We don’t have much coming back, that’s why we have a big class of pitchers.”
LSU will have 11 newcomers on its pitching staff when fall practice begins. Mainieri has no idea which of these pitchers will step forward and assume major roles next season.
“Three years ago, I thought Alex Lange was the fourth best pitcher we signed,” Mainieri said. All Lange ended up doing was win 30 games and strike out 400 batters. You just never know.”
The Tigers must find four replacements in the everyday lineup – catcher, outfielder and two infielders. Junior Bryce Jordan, who missed the 2017 season because of a knee injury, could be the first baseman as sophomore Jake Slaughter gets a shot at either second base or third base.
Josh Smith will shift from third base to shortstop. Five players will compete for the second base and third base jobs – junior college transfer Brandt Broussard, freshman Hal Hughes, junior Chris Reid, Slaughter and sophomore Rankin Woley.
Freshman Mason Doolittle and junior college transfer Hunter Feduccia are expected to divide the catching duties. The third outfield spot will be up for grabs among freshmen Daniel Cabrera and Nick Webre and senior Beau Jordan.
Here is the 2018 LSU baseball roster.
P Austin Bain
1B Nick Coomes
OF Beau Jordan
OF Brennan Breaux
IF Brandt Broussard
OF Antoine Duplantis
C Hunter Feduccia
P Caleb Gilbert
1B Bryce Jordan
P Clay Moffitt
P Brandon Nowak
P Taylor Petersen
IF Chris Reid
P Cameron Sanders
P Matthew Beck
P Nick Bush
P Zack Hess
P Todd Peterson
P Will Reese
IF Jake Slaughter
IF Josh Smith
OF Zach Watson
IF Rankin Woley
P Eric Walker (out for the 2018 season)
OF Daniel Cabrera
C Mason Doolittle
C Braden Doughty
P Devin Fontenot
P Ma’Khail Hilliard
IF Hal Hughes
P John Kodros
P A.J. Labas
P Matt Schroer
P Nick Storz
1B Mason Templet
P Trent Vietmeier
OF Nick Webre