On August 28, 2015, almost every LSU sports fan was focused on football – more specifically the team’s season-opening game with McNeese State, which, of course, was canceled because of an afternoon shower that just refused to go away.
While the storm clouds were building in Baton Rouge, a different type of lightning bolt was striking down more than 1,000 miles away in Akron, Ohio.
No one knew it at the time, but it was a surge of electricity that would go a long way in helping the LSU baseball season many months later.
On the above-mentioned date, Akron disbanded its baseball program – a decision made to save the cash-strapped school some money in the wake of a recent enrollment drop.
Of course, that meant that Akron’s players were now without a team – each granted a waiver by the NCAA to transfer freely to any program without having to sit out a season of competition.
Once that ruling was announced, LSU got in on the act, offering the Zips’ ace pitcher John Valek III a roster spot and an opportunity to compete for mound time at an SEC school.
Sure, it might be hard to appreciate in the present after Valek had his toughest start of the season this past weekend against Ole Miss, but without the crafty lefty’s presence in the rotation this season, LSU’s season would likely have played out much differently – and probably not in a good way.
Valek is a steady college baseball pitcher – the type of guy that’s ideal to be your Sunday starter. He throws strikes — tons and tons of strikes. This, of course, challenges opposing batters to make contact and put the ball in play.
Sometimes, the results are good, and sometimes they’re not.
But Valek has been an innings eater that keeps LSU in the game more times than not – hence the ambitious 6-2 record on the season in 11 starts. That’s gone a long way to keep the Tigers in contention to host an NCAA Tournament Regional with just a few weeks left in the regular season.
It’s no secret that pitching depth isn’t LSU’s strength this season – especially when it comes to the team’s starters.
The Tigers have Jared Poche’ who is a proven commodity. Of course, there’s also Alex Lange, who is slowly rounding back into the form that made him an unstoppable force for the team last season.
Outside of that dynamic duo, what would the Tigers really have if not for Valek’s emergence as the Sunday starter?
The rest of the Tigers’ staff is woefully inconsistent and incapable of consistently getting outs in the starter’s role – even if just in midweek games against inferior competition.
Simply put, there is no one else on the roster who is currently capable of getting consistent weekend outs, while posting a 6-2 record in 11 starts.
Valek is underappreciated because he’s not a hard thrower nor is he flashy when on the bump, but in more starts than not, he just gets people out and gives LSU a chance to win.
Last I checked that’s all you can ask for out of your No. 3 guy on a college baseball staff.
It’s a shame what happened to Akron’s baseball program. It’s always heartbreaking to see a university shrink its athletic department because of a lack of funding.
But in this case, Akron’s loss was LSU’s gain.
Getting Valek has been a huge coup for the Tigers’ 2016 season – a guy who’s allowed the team to make a run toward the NCAA Tournament.
Photo courtesy of LSU Sports Information.