TUESDAY MORNING MOUND VISIT: Warriors will need to bring their best against No. 2 Pilots

Apr. 9—No. 8 Lewis-Clark State baseball's absolute dismantling of College of Idaho couldn't have come at a better time.

The Warriors dispatched the Coyotes in the four-game series last weekend by scores of 8-7, 14-1, 6-2 and 15-3. These are exactly the kinds of performances LCSC will need to replicate to be successful this weekend.

The Warriors will take on the No. 2 LSU Shreveport Pilots starting Friday. By the time the Pilots get to Lewiston, they might be the No. 1 team in the country based on recent losses by current No. 1 Southeastern.

It's a rarity for LCSC to have a nonconference series against this high quality of an opponent late in the regular season. Normally, these kinds of matchups are reserved for NAIA Opening Rounds or the Avista NAIA World Series.

And there aren't many teams of a higher quality this year than LSUS.

The Pilots are tied with Southeastern for the lowest ERA in the NAIA (2.86) and have several pitchers who are among the best in the country.

LSUS junior left-hander Isaac Rohde is a legitimate NAIA pitcher of the year candidate. He boasts a 1.43 ERA in 69  innings pitched and has let up 17 hits on the year. He's also averaging an 11.42 K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings pitched). The Pilots have four other pitchers with a minimum of seven appearances who are averaging an ERA below 2.00.

The closest the Warriors have come to facing a staff the caliber of the Pilots was the opening week of the season against Southeastern and March 1-3 against British Columbia.

LCSC lost the game against the Fire 10-3 but swept the four-game series against the Thunderbirds.

The Pilots' offense is nothing to scoff at either. LSUS is hitting .322 as a team and has connected for 103 multi-base hits (doubles, triples, home runs).

The Pilots are deserving of their No. 2 ranking. And if they do get bumped up to No. 1, they'd be deserving of that, too. That makes the Warriors' recent caliber of wins all the more important.

LCSC split its first series against College of Idaho earlier in the year — and that was with a lineup that was as healthy as its been most of the year (sans an injury mid-series to senior outfielder Nick Seamons).

The Warriors had two of their best offensive performances of the season last weekend against the Coyotes. And that was with several injuries that resulted in 13 players getting at-bats.

Some of those changes also ended up working really well.

Junior infielder Dominic Signorelli played shortstop the whole series (he filled in for an injured Leo Rivera). Signorelli played admirably in the six position — enough to where it's a safe bet he will be in that spot going forward.

The second base spot is still a question mark. Magnum Hofstetter and Evan Overmars both saw time at second, and usual starter Pu'ukani De Sa played third base all of last weekend. De Sa played well at third, but the competition at second base will be something to watch the last month of the season.

The pitching also took a massive step forward.

LCSC's Game 1 starter Drake George struggled, but he has been one of the most consistent arms on the Warriors' staff since the season began. He'll more than likely get back to the form he's shown prior to the last two weeks.

Game 2 starter Shane Spencer put up his third double-digit strikeout game this season last weekend, and was named the Cascade Conference pitcher of the week for his efforts.

Game 3 starter Decker Stedman got out of several jams, which helped set up the Warriors for a come-from-behind win. Game 4 starter Hiroyuki Yamada, who has had a mixed bag of appearances ranging from disappointing to good, also had a decent outing. He struck out seven batters in five inning pitched and gave up one earned run while walking one.

LCSC's bullpen also should be considered a legitimate strength of the team. The Warriors sent out nine relievers during the series and they combined to give up just three earned runs.

The emergence of the bullpen as a strength is all the more impressive considering its top reliever, Brady Maylett, has been out with an injury the last several weeks, and might miss the rest of the season.

Even with all that, this is something worth saying: LSU Shreveport is not College of Idaho. Not even close.

The Coyotes are a team with talent. But their series split with the Warriors earlier this season had more to do with LCSC not playing at its best than COI being that good.

LSUS is battle-tested. It's played, and beat, several top-25 or receiving-votes teams. One of those teams is Reinhardt (Ga.) which, a couple weeks ago, handed Southeastern its first series loss in over two years.

The Warriors lead the overall record against the Pilots (3-0 all time). But this is the first time either team has played a top-10 nonconference series in years.

There is barely any precedent for a regular-season stretch of this magnitude. LCSC does have the home advantage of Harris Field and LSUS will have to travel a good distance (2,065 miles). That's an advantage for the Warriors, but banking on the Pilots having some jet lag (which would be ironic) isn't a good bet.

This series against LSUS will be the toughest slate of games LCSC will have until the Opening Round rolls around. It's also a rare late-season measuring stick for the Warriors.

LCSC played Southeastern in its fourth game of the season. It was a 10-3 loss. The team has undergone several changes since that game, and a series win or split against the Pilots can be a sure sign that the Warriors are still a team to beat at their best.

A series loss would also help highlight whatever changes LCSC would need to make before the postseason.

But, for the Warriors to have a chance at beating LSUS, that performance against College of Idaho can't be a flash in the pan, or even the ceiling.

It has to be the floor.

Kowatsch can be contacted at 208-848-2268, or on Twitter @Teren_Kowatsch.