Alex Box Stadium at LSU. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, April 04, 2014 4:23 PMLSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri insists the hatchet has been buried, the olive branch extended.
Besides, at this stage LSU hasn’t really got the time for petty feuds.
The slumping Tigers need at least a series win, preferably a sweep, to get back into the conference race when Mississippi State visits for a weekend series beginning tonight.
The opponent just happens to be a reminder of an ugly incident from a year ago.
Tonight will be the first meeting since tempers flared last year in Starkville when the Tigers were opening the Southeastern Conference schedule by taking the first two games. Mississippi State salvaged the third, amid of lot of jawing from both benches, and it reached the tipping point when Bulldogs pitcher Kendall Graveman threw a fastball near the head of LSU star Mason Katz.
After that game, Mainieri said: “I could understand why they’re frustrated. I mean, we beat them every year, and they get tired of getting beat by us. To me, there’s no place in college baseball for doing that.”
Mainieri, who in his seven previous years at LSU has never lost a series to Mississippi State, says now he’s put the matter behind him.
He said he and Mississippi State coach John Cohen have since talked it out.
“That was an isolated incident,” Mainieri said. “John and I talked in the summer, and I really believe it’s behind us. We don’t really have any hard feelings about it. I would rather not dwell on an incident like that. I’d expect it to be a very clean, hard-fought weekend.”
Mainieri said he’s more interested in seeing this year’s team catch its stride after being swept in three games against Florida last weekend.
The Tigers (21-8-1, 3-5-1 SEC) are in last place in the SEC West. Mississippi State (20-10, 6-3), which last year made the championship round of the College World Series before losing to UCLA, is tied for first place with Alabama.
LSU, which has been mired in a horrendous hitting slump, seemed to come out of it with a 10-3 victory over McNeese State Wednesday night that also broke a five-game winless streak.
“It was nice to see the guys start to loosen up a little bit,” Mainieri said. “I guess that’s a little bit of an example that hitting is contagious. Once one guy starts to hit, everybody else starts to loosen up a little bit and start having some fun.”
Mainieri, who for the third consecutive weekend said he isn’t sure yet who his Sunday starting pitcher is going to be, will also switch the Friday and Saturday starters this week.
Ace Aaron Nola (5-1, 0.55 ERA) will be held back until Saturday. That will leave freshman left-hander Jared Poché (5-2, 2.61) to face Mississippi State left-hander Ross Mitchell (5-1, 1.55).
Nola will pitch against right-hander Trevor Fitts (2-1, 3.09).
Mainieri said the move was so that Nola, would have his normal six-days’ rest after he threw a complete game in a 2-1 loss to Florida last Saturday.
“I think he’s up to it,” Mainieri said of Poché. “He’s now got three SEC starts, he’s pitched under the bright lights here.”
LSU’s No. 3 starter, Kyle Bouman, is doubtful for the third straight weekend with a sprained ankle.
He faced one batter against McNeese but was walking gingerly afterward.