Louisiana is blessed with plenty of young baseball talent and there always seems to be plenty to divvy up among the state’s Division I baseball programs.
That’s always evident whenever LSU – the biggest brother of all the state’s programs – squares off with another in-state team.
For obvious reasons, there are always players in the smaller programs who bring a little extra motivation whenever they tangle with the Tigers, often making those games a little more spirited than a normal non-conference opponent might.
In fact, in each of Paul Mainieri’s first five seasons, LSU has dropped at least two games to in-state foes.
McNeese State gets the first crack at doing so this season when the Cowboys (1-1) take on the 7th-ranked Tigers (3-0) at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Alex Box Stadium.
LSU plays 10 games against Louisiana foes this season. This is the first of a home-and-home series with the Cowboys. Mainieri played at New Orleans and understands the extra emphasis the teams around the state place on playing well against the Tigers.
“When you play an instate team, it is s a big deal for them,” he said.
Added senior Tyler Hanover, “All these instate rivals always want to beat us. They want to play their ‘A’ game and they show us that all the time.”
Hanover would know. He was a freshman on the 2009 team that rolled to a 56-17 record and the program’s sixth national championship.
Three of those losses came to in-state foes, two at the Box.
During Mainieri’s tenure, McNeese is one of a handful in-state teams that hasn’t found the formula for beating the Tigers. LSU is 5-0 against the Cowboys under Mainieri and hasn’t lost to them since 2000 when Mike Bianco was running the McNeese program.
But the Tigers never blow the Cowboys out either, and haven’t scored more than six runs against them since a 7-3 triumph in 2001. Mainieri alluded to a 2-1 triumph in 2010 when LSU needed a Micah Gibbs home run in the eighth inning and a game-saving catch from Trey Watkins to secure the narrow victory.
To keep McNeese in check this time around, Mainieri will send sophomore Joe Broussard to the mound for his second career start.
Broussard logged two scoreless innings against Alcorn State last Saturday and was 0-1 in 2011 with a 5.19 ERA. The right-hander will likely get the first three innings as an audition for later mid-week starts.
Mainieri said Broussard has improved under first-year pitching coach Alan Dunn by keeping pitches down in the strike zone, tightening up his curve ball and mastering a changeup.
Broussard, who played at Holy Cross in New Orleans, also has a good grasp of what this game means to an in-state opponent.
“I know I’d be amped to play here if I was them, so I’ve got to go out there and shut them down,” Broussard said.
Around the horn
Mainieri said sophomore Nick Rumbelow has solidified his hold on the closer’s job and would get the late-inning call if needed vs. McNeese State.
“If Goody can pitch like he’s pitched and Nola can pitch like he’s pitched, we’re going to have a pretty good set of setup men,” Mainieri said. “And we have to have somebody else who can potentially close that third game if Rumbelow throws the first two.”
Freshman Jared Foster is a Lake Charles native who was offered a baseball scholarship to play for the Cowboys, but came to LSU instead as a football walk-on before moving to the baseball program fulltime. Mainieri said it’s possible Foster could get start in the designated hitter spot Wednesday.