By Andrew Alexander
LSU baseball closed out its final home regular season series with an extra-innings thriller, sweeping the Missouri Tigers and grabbing sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference in the process. LSU wraps up its season with a trip to Columbia, South Carolina to battle the Gamecocks (30-22, 12-15) this weekend. With less than a week until the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama begins, here are my thoughts on the LSU baseball team.
LSU’s armed with the weapon missing from last year’s arsenal: Austin Bain
Remember last season when LSU could not find a reliable third starter? Enter Dutchtown product Austin Bain. The freshman right-hander stopped the bleeding for LSU Sunday when he replaced senior Kyle Bouman in the first inning. Facing a 3-0 deficit, Bain (1-2) entered the game and calmly struck out the next six batters, and seven total. Bain’s 45 strikeouts is the third highest on the team behind LSU starters Alex Lange and Jared Poche’. Sporting a 2.98 ERA, Bain has appeared in 17 games for the Tigers, but started only four. That’s sure to change with LSU playing for championships every weekend moving forward.
*Editor’s Note: Foster has been reinstated to the LSU baseball after winning an appeal to restore his eligibility.
Foster’s departure from the LSU baseball team because of academic ineligibility could not have come at a more inopportune time. Although the Lake Charles native was in the midst of a hefty slump, Foster was an experienced and respected leader, traits beneficial to any team with lofty postseason aspirations. Sophomore Danny Zardon replaced Foster at second base against Missouri last weekend, and committed a late inning error (his sixth of the season) in Sunday’s game, nearly costing LSU the series sweep. Foster experienced his share of growing pains in the field when he took over second base earlier this season, but unfortunately, Zardon will not be afforded that luxury. From this point forward, LSU fans everywhere (and probably LSU coach Paul Mainieri) will be holding their collective breath each time a ball is hit Zardon’s way – until he regains the trust of the Tiger faithful.
Chris Chinea is my favorite player to watch in the field.
Chinea’s title as LSU’s toughest player was cemented when he took a fastball to the chin against Georgia in mid-April, and his willingness to lay out for any ball hit near first base has not gone unnoticed. A catcher by trade, Chinea treats first base as home plate and right field as an endless backstop. Glove, arm, leg, chest, thigh – name the body part and the Miami, FL native has used it to keep a baseball in front of him and secure an LSU out. Chinea’s airtight defense will be paramount until new second baseman Danny Zardon feels comfortable.
Do not sleep on the Gamecocks.
South Carolina has won three conference series this season: Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M. The Aggies and Commodores are two of the three best teams in the league (along with LSU) and consensus top-10 teams in the nation. The Gamecocks are the worst hitting team in the conference (.257) but managed to score 31 runs and steal the weekend series from the Aggies in College Station last weekend. Two wins over LSU would bolster the Gamecocks postseason resume in a big way. LSU’s weekend series against South Carolina has “trap series” written all over it.