College : : Story
Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Adversity helps mold LSU

Kendall Rogers        

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Don't expect "Remember Stony Brook" to be a rallying cry for the LSU Tigers leading up to this weekend's Baton Rouge Super Regional series against Oklahoma.

Surprisingly, it took a while to be mentioned in the post-game press conference following LSU's win over Louisiana-Lafayette in the Baton Rouge Regional title game on Sunday. But when asked if last year's series loss against the Seawolves draws any extra motivation for the upcoming weekend, LSU coach Paul Mainieri was quick to dismiss it, saying only "last year's team was last year's team, this year's team is this year's team."

Though many in the college baseball community have dissected last year's NCAA Super Regional between Stony Brook and LSU for obvious reasons, it being one of the biggest upsets in NCAA postseason history, even in the days following that tough series loss, Mainieri and the Tigers only looked at the positives stemming from the situation. After all, at that point, it was all they could do.

So, in the coming days, the Tigers likely won't mutter the words "Stony Brook", but there's zero doubt that series loss has helped mold this year's LSU club into a tough, incredibly resilient bunch, more than capable of winning the program's seventh national title.

"No matter what breaks go against us, we find a way, and we seem to find a new hero each day," Mainieri said. "We didn't play great or consistent this past weekend, but winning is the goal, and you can win without playing great baseball sometimes."

This LSU team will be fun to watch this weekend against the Sooners, and even more so if the Tigers are able to reach the College World Series.

But while things have been fantastic for the Tigers throughout this spring, this team, in a way, has already exceeded at least some expectations.

LSU entered the season as a team we all thought would compete for a CWS appearance, but it wasn't a club void of question marks. The Tigers had the tough chore of replacing veteran shortstop Austin Nola and third baseman Tyler Hanover, while the third spot in the weekend rotation was a concern with the departure of Kevin Gausman.

Before the fall, the Tigers knew they'd have freshman Alex Bregman, while they awaited word until August to find out if Christian Ibarra would be able to enroll at LSU in the fall. If he was, the Tigers had a perfect replacement for Nola or Hanover. If not, it was definitely back to the drawing board for Mainieri's club.

Both players arrived in the fall, and left their mark. I vividly remember a text message from Mainieri in the fall claiming that Bregman was one of the better freshmen he's ever seen. Considering he's usually not one to intentionally pump up his player, that comment created much intrigue.

While Ibarra and Bregman were busy developing into instant impact guys in the fall, reliever Chris Cotton developed into an even more dominant arm, while most importantly, Cody Glenn developed into a very legitimate weekend rotation option after finishing last season with a 5.62 earned-run average.

All four of those guys rose to the occasion in the fall. All four continued that trend into the spring. Ibarra is one of the nation's cleanest defenders at third, and has a .325 batting average with six homers and 39 RBIs, while Bregman has been phenomenal in his first campaign, showing good range, a strong arm, and a consistent bat with a team-high .385 average, six homers and 52 RBIs.

Then there's the X-factor, shaggy-haired lefty Chris Cotton. Cotton, certainly in the mix to be the nation's best closer with the campaign he's having, isn't a blow-away fastball type of pitcher, but he has a nasty arsenal that's almost impossible to hit in a one-inning stint. Cotton has appeared in 35 games this season with a 1.29 ERA and 16 saves in 42 innings. Astonishingly, Cotton has struck out 45 and walked three.

Glenn is another pleasant surprise for the Tigers. A master magician at keeping the ball low in the strike zone, while displaying very good command, Glenn has a 2.41 ERA in 82 innings, along with 37 strikeouts and 16 walks. The Tigers were without Glenn in the Baton Rouge Regional because of a suspension tied to a violation of team rules, but he'll be back on the mound this weekend after the team voted to reinstate him.

As impressive as it is the Tigers have had many players step up this spring, it’s been even more impressive to watch how this team responds to adversity.

The Tigers lost speedy outfielder Mark Laird to a rolled ankle two weekends ago at the Southeastern Conference tournament and proceeded to win the event. Then, Bregman and outfielder Raph Rhymes collided in the first game of the NCAA Regional against Jackson State, the Tigers finding a way to fight through the situation.

The Tigers also escaped a 5-0 hole against Sam Houston State over the weekend, while also taking care of business in the weekend finale against Louisiana-Lafayette despite not having hot-hitting Sean McMullen because of a tweaked hamstring. Then, of course, the Cody Glenn situation in addition to all that.

“We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity the past few weeks, getting into the loser’s bracket in the SEC tournament and things like that,” Bregman said. “This team just battles and that’s the mindset we’re going to have each time out.”

Oklahoma will present some different tests than Jackson State, Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Lafayette did this past weekend. OU has a pair of the nation’s elite arms in right-handed pitcher Jonathan Gray, who could very well be the top pick in this week’s MLB draft, while Overton can get above 90 on the radar gun with good secondary stuff.

No matter how tough the pitching matchups this weekend might be, this year's LSU club has answered the call when asked, whether battling through injuries or even temporary suspensions such as this past weekend.

In the meantime, much of the talk around Baton Rouge leading up to the weekend will continue to be about last year's Stony Brook series loss.

Don't view Stony Brook as a source for motivation, more so a learning experience helping mold the 2013 club into a legitimate championship contender.

"This [Super Regional] is what coming to LSU is all about," Mainieri said. "A series in Alex Box Stadium to go to the College World Series. You kidding me?"

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