COLUMBIA, S.C. – A short final week of the regular season accelerated everything for the LSU and South Carolina baseball teams for a highly anticipated showdown with an SEC championship potentially on the line.
Mother Nature opted to slow things down a little bit Thursday, though.
The Tigers and Gamecocks will have to wait one more day after all.
Persistent rains in the Columbia area hung around just long enough for Carolina officials to postpone Thursday’s scheduled opener between No. 4-ranked LSU (40-13, 17-10 SEC) and top-ranked USC (38-13, 17-9).
The teams will play a split doubleheader Friday at Carolina Stadium, with the series opener now at 1:30 p.m. and the nightcap at 6 p.m., both 9-inning games. CST will broadcast the second contest.
The reason for the twin bill Friday instead of Saturday, when the regularly scheduled game is set for noon is because SEC rules mandate that teams must try to make up games as quickly as possible.
Strangely enough, as soon as an announcement was made the smattering of fans in and around the stadium, the skies cleared up and it didn’t rain again for several more hours, although LSU coach Paul Mainieri said “The radar looks just awful, like there could be rain all night.”
But the possibility of having a series opener interrupted when both teams feature one of the best series-opening starters in the country – LSU’s Kevin Gausman and Carolina’s Michael Roth – played a big role in the decision.
“The thing about these opening games is you just hate to start the game and then have it stopped,” Mainieri said. “Then you’ve burned up Gausman after two or three innings and they’ve burned up Roth after two or three innings and they can’t come back and pitch the next day. You’re more reluctant to start under bad conditions that first game. You hate your top pitcher to have that kind of situation.
“The weather is predicted to be pretty good the next couple of days. Nobody likes playing doubleheaders, but at the same time I think we’d all much rather play under good conditions than bad, especially with so much at stake. I can’t say I disagree with the decision.”
Mainieri said the pitching rotation is likely to stay the same on Friday: Gausman (8-1, 2.95 ERA) will get the ball in the first game and freshman Aaron Nola (6-3, 3.86) in the second.
If there is a silver lining to the series being pushed back a day, it’s the fact that Gausman will be back on schedule – with six days of rest between starts. Likewise, the entire Tiger bullpen except Kurt McCune gets another day of recuperation.
"It does put (Gausman) back to normal rest,” Mainieri said. “I guess Nola will still be on shorter rest and (Saturday starter Ryan Eades) will still be on shorter rest. I don’t know if it helps or hurts (Gausman). He’ll be ready to go."
Because of how steady the rain at the stadium was, Gausman and the other pitchers stayed on the bus until the rainout edict came down. Gausman and Nola got off after the announcement do some off-day work with pitching coach Alan Dunn while the rest of the team returned to the hotel.
To wait. A little longer than expected.
“There are two things you can’t do anything about: Weather and injuries,” Mainieri said. “The kids just have to deal with it. We’ll go back to the hotel, get them so food and hopefully they get a good night’s rest because (Friday) is going to be a long day and then we turn around and play a 1 p.m. game the next day.
“It’s just the way it is and you deal with it. You try to build toughness in them throughout the year where they don’t make excuses and deal with circumstances, whatever may come their way.”
Those four would be going through graduation ceremonies in Baton Rouge if the team was back home. So as has been the case the last several years under Mainieri, the four will have their graduation ceremony, complete with a commencement address from a university professor.
NOTE: Plucker's Wing Bar on Bluebonnet Blvd. in Baton Rouge will carry a broadcast of Friday's first game via South Carolina's in-house broadcast.