Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 10:12 AM
Heading into a second consecutive Southeastern Conference road series, this time at Alabama, it would appear that No. 2-ranked LSU has found its leadoff man.
All it took was a little patience — on both ends.
Head coach Paul Mainieri tried just about everyone at the spot early in the season and at the start of conference play. But nobody seemed up to the task until junior college transfer Sean McMullen took over the top of the batting order three weeks ago.
In 10 games since, McMullen has scored 10 runs and is hitting .385, which doesn’t really tell the story. Throw in 10 walks and the two times he was hit by a pitch and he’s reached base in 63 percent of his appearances in those last eight games.
“As we go forward, him in that leadoff spot is going to make a big difference and complete our team,” Mainieri said.
It wasn’t overnight.
McMullen, who said he grew up dreaming of playing for LSU, wasn’t quite ready in Mainieri’s estimation coming out of Brother Martin High in Metairie.
“I encouraged him to go to Delgado (Junior College) for a couple of years,” Mainieri said. “I told him we would follow him and keep up with him.”
McMullen did his part — JUCO All-American while hitting .452 last year — and Mainieri kept his word, signing him to a scholarship for this season.
“I thought he would step right in as a starter just because he was a couple of years older than the freshmen coming in,” Mainieri said.
But it wasn’t quite that simple.
“He just never quite put it together in fall practice,” Mainieri said. “I think he was still trying to figure out the whole system here. Sometimes it just takes a little while longer.”
It was little better when the team began workouts in February, but still not the finished product.
“He still wasn’t quite there,” Mainieri said.
Chris Sciambra, coming off a serious neck injury from last season, began the season in center field and leading off but never really got his bat going. Second baseman JaCoby Jones gave it a shot, but it did nothing for the slump he was already in, and it was only in recent weeks that he came to life in his more comfortable No. 7 spot in the order.
Meanwhile, Mainieri said, “I had been watching (McMullen’s) batting practices and I just felt it finally clicked for him. The light bulb went off.”
So McMullen, a rare left-hander who hits left-handed pitching as well as he does right-handers, got the start in the middle game of the series at Missouri.
“I never gave up on him,” Mainieri said. “I always thought he had talent. I always thought he would emerge, that eventually he would calm down and get his feet on the round. Sometimes it just takes a little longer.”
The Tigers (35-3, 13-2 SEC) go into the weekend with a four-game lead in the SEC West but trail Vanderbilt by a game in the overall standings. Alabama (23-16, 8-7) was challenging LSU until being swept last weekend at Ole Miss.