LSU, NSU poised for big things in 2012

After missing postseason in ’11, LSU hungry for more
February 14, 2012
Chabert staff worry about community loss
February 16, 2012
After missing postseason in ’11, LSU hungry for more
February 14, 2012
Chabert staff worry about community loss
February 16, 2012

I know not many people share this sentiment, but there’s truly nothing like college baseball.

The atmosphere n a small-town stadium feel. The stakes are obviously greater than little league or prep baseball, but that feel is still the same n that aura is still there. An aura that just makes one feel like the guys on the field are playing not for money, but for love of the sport and of the university.

The game n so simple, but so complex. A sport where an inch is the difference between ball and strike, fair and foul and homerun or out. It’s virtually the only segment of life in which someone can fail 65 out of 100 times and be considered one of the most successful players within an industry.

And the beautiful ping of the bat as a hitter makes clean contact on the baseball.

There’s just nothing like it n it’s one of the sporting seasons I enjoy the most.

This year, that enjoyment has graduated into downright giddy and I am truly anxious for this weekend’s start to the season.

That’s because I believe that both LSU and Nicholls State will field solid clubs n meaning this guy will be able to see some high-stakes games played and some pressure-filled, thrilling innings.

Start with LSU n the Goliath of college baseball with their six national championships since the 1990s.

In recent years, Goliath hasn’t been nearly as masterful and LSU has failed to make it to an NCAA Super Regional in each of the past two seasons.

In fact, the Tigers didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament in 2011 n just the third time since 1989 that LSU didn’t have a hand in postseason play.

Don’t get it twisted n the Tigers were robbed by the selection committee and should have been among the 64 teams. But the fact remains the same: LSU baseball’s fate should never be in the hands of anyone when the brackets are being carved.

Don’t expect that to be the case in 2012.

The Tigers will be absolutely filthy on the mound, returning their entire weekend rotation from a crew that already wasn’t half bad in 2011.

Names like Kevin Gausman, Kurt McCune and Ryan Eades will get all of the love from fans and media types who are enamored with quality starts and shutout innings.

The Tigers will also have enough depth to bridge games from the sixth inning to its completion thanks to a sound recruiting class and also the wisdom of new pitching coach Alan Dunn.

Dunn’s effect on this team may not be able to be fully appreciated because the team has so much star power in its staff. But Tigers’ head coach Paul Mainieri likened the first-year assistant’s impact to that of LSU football defensive coordinator John Chavis.

If that’s the case, expect the Tigers to hang a lot of zeros on the board, effortlessly getting outs to turn the game over to their sticks.

LSU’s offense isn’t expected to be nearly as strong as the pitching staff. But the group does have its share of sluggers and pesky hitters and the Tigers are more than capable of hanging five or six runs on the board per game.

If they do, expect LSU to not just make the NCAA Tournament this time around, but to host an NCAA Regional, if not a Super Regional.

That sounds like a lofty goal, but the Tigers are ranked No. 8 in the opening Top 25 poll for a reason n they are back and appear to be here to stay.

Just south in Thibodaux, Nicholls is ready to build on its finish to the 2011 season. With absolutely no margin for error, the Colonels closed the regular season hot, squeaking into the Southland Conference Tournament by the narrowest margins.

Once there, the team didn’t get content n they almost won the dang thing. Nicholls won its opening two games in the conference tournament to advance to the finals of the winner’s bracket.

That’s unchartered territory for this program which has risen from the abyss of Academic Progress Rate purgatory and has since recovered and become an annual threat n a turnaround that’s a credit to both former coach Chip Durham and current coach Seth Thibodeaux.

Ultimately, a lack of depth did the team in and they were eliminated from the conference tournament in the semifinals.

But on that hot, steamy weekend in Katy, Texas, the Colonels earned the respect of the rest of the conference’s opposing players and coaches.

They proved to themselves that they are not the Nicholls of old — the team that would struggle to win 10 games in a season, much less attain conference tournament success.

More importantly, they proved to themselves that they could compete with anyone within their league.

With a talented core of returnees, I expect a similar run in 2012, if not a deeper postseason push for the Colonels.

Start on the mound where like LSU, Nicholls is loaded.

The Colonels return arguably the Southland Conference’s best pitcher Seth Webster.

Fresh off two-straight injury riddled seasons, Webster returned in 2011 and posted a 7-3 record in 2011 with a sparkling 2.30 ERA in 109 1/3 innings.

Nicholls’ ace isn’t the prototypical alpha male on the mound. He doesn’t throw a 90-plus mph fastball. He actually throws closer to 80. But Webster locates his pitches masterfully and any pitching coach will tell you that’s more important than velocity.

Webster’s coaches say they don’t want to rely as heavily on the righty in 2012 as they did in 2011.

But make no mistake about it, the pitcher believes he’s ready to carry the load. He’ll tell anyone who’s willing to listen that he believes he can not on replicate 2011, but build on it and be better.

That’s a scary thought for any hitter in the opposing batting order on Friday nights opposing the Colonels.

The Colonels also have their share of hurlers to counter Webster, returning lefties Mike Wisecarver and Brad Delatte.

Offensively, the team also has a slew of experienced sticks, including slugger Jeremy Hill and Blake Bergeron.

Thibodeaux said he also believes the team will get major contributions from newcomers to give the team more offensive balance than it has had in years past.

The Colonels open their season this weekend in a road series with annual power Southern Miss.

Once home, the team will reap the benefits of some brand new seating inside of the always-beautiful Didier Field.

Trust me, the new seats are among the best in the park – I enjoyed a couple minutes in them with Thibodeaux myself.

For anyone who enjoys a good time, the Colonels also sell beer at games, giving fans the ability to enjoy a drink or two with the boys while the game is being decided on the field.

LSU will be at home this weekend to tackle Air Force and Alcorn St.

Include me as one excited to see how it unfolds.

I encourage everyone to take an evening out of their schedules to check it out.

Alas, college baseball is here!

I might be the only one, but mark me down as excited for the aluminum ping to be here once more.

There’s nothing like the sweet pinging sound of an aluminum bat.