In all three games of the regional last week, LSU’s players got a glimpse at how the other side lives.
The side with facial hair.
A handful of players from both ULM and Oregon State sprouted some impressive beards, moustaches, and in some cases, both.
“I was pretty amused because there were some really good moustaches,” senior Austin Nola said. “You could tell they’ve been growing them for a while.”
That won’t happen at LSU.
Tigers coach Paul Mainieri has a strict no facial hair policy. Players have to be clean shaven when a weekend begins and when they return to practice following a Sunday game.
That’s nothing new to Nola, who went to Catholic High and has been used to a clean look his entire life.
“I have no good moustache,” he said. “I’ve been clean-shaven all my life.”
There was some drama in the Nola family earlier this spring, though, when freshman Aaron Nola went an extra day without shaving.
“He tried to grow a goatee and I was like ‘What are you doing? That’s horrible. Get that off,’ ” Austin Nola. “I looked at him and said ‘Wait a second are you trying to grow something there? Shave that immediately!”
So, in a different world, who would grow the best facial hair for LSU?
Actually in the offseason, some of the players do extend their boundaries a bit.
Senior Grant Dozar got votes for his Fu Manchu. Tyler Hanover laid a claim to the best beard. Mason Katz said roommate Jordy Snikeris is “a pretty hairy guy.” And a few players also tossed out the word ‘neard,’ for teammates who grow plenty of scruff on their necks.
“We don’t really have somebody that can compare to anybody we saw (last weekend),” Dozar said. “I’m older so I can grow some facial hair, but we all look better with the clean look.”
A different man
For a week solid, the media inundated Mainieri with questions about closer Nick Goody after he blew a save in the SEC Tournament – to the point where the almost-always affable Tigers coach showed a little frustration.
The questions were different this week and Mainieri took the opportunity to expand on how the fiery Goody ticks as a game unfolds.
“Nick Goody’s thing is he’s going to go after batters,” Mainieri said. “He’s going to throw his fastball at whatever MPH it’s supposed to be. He’s going to try to hit his spots. Sometimes they hit it, and sometimes they don’t. And sometimes when they hit it, it finds holes. That’s the just the life of a pitcher, and when you’re a closer, that’s magnified.
“When the game starts he’s got a different personality. Now he’s a competitor. Now he wants to beat you more than he wants to breathe. When I look at him for six innings, I see one personality. When we get to about the seventh or eighth inning, I start seeing a different personality. He gets his glove and plays catch with himself. He won’t take his eyes off me because he’s just waiting for me to give him a nod to say ‘Get down to the bullpen.’ And (snapped his fingers) he’s down there in a heartbeat. The biggest problem I have sometimes is to hold him back so he doesn’t burn himself up to see if we’re going to use him.”
Goody was perfect in two one-inning appearances against Oregon State and closed out a 6-5 victory in the regional clincher with three strikeouts.
That raised his season save total to 11, 10 in one-run games.
When he was picked in the sixth round of the draft by the Yankees on Tuesday, Goody said the relationship with Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn has made a major difference in his conversion from being a starter last season to one of the top closers in the country.
“Coach Mainieri got to know me pretty well and he’s shown a lot of confidence in me,” Goody said. “That helps me do my job because I know he’s not going to give up on me.”
LSU junior Alex Edward has never put up eye-catching statistics over a long stretch in his three-year career, but in two postseasons the former Parkview Baptist star has shown a flair for the dramatic.
Two years ago Edward was 4-for-13 with a home run, three runs scored and three RBIs in three games at the UCLA regional. He didn’t have quite as much success last weekend, but started all three games and delivered a massive RBI double in the ninth inning to forge a 5-5 tie.
Edward was also strong in right field with 10 putouts, which helped Mainieri have the confidence to keep Mason Katz at first base.
“I was so happy for Alex Edward and so proud of him,” Mainieri said. “Alex is not the most talented or he doesn’t jump out when you look at his stats. But Alex is a baseball player. He’s a gamer and he plays hard. He’s very steady. His ability to step up at a key time and deliver a big hit does not surprise any of us. That’s why he plays, because you expect him to do that and he does it in the postseason when it’s time to separate the men from the boys.”
Rhymes in elite company
LSU senior Raph Rhymes was named Thursday as one of three finalists for the 2012 Dick Howser Trophy, one of the more prestigious individual awards handed out in college baseball.
Rhymes leads the country with a .452 batting average and tops the Tigers with 52 RBIs.
The other finalists are Florida catcher Mike Zunino and Utah Valley State first baseman Goose Kallunki.
Numbers of note
Stony Brook’s gaudy offensive numbers are impossible to ignore.
The Seawolves enter the Super Regional ranked second nationally with a .336 team batting average, .454 slugging percentage and 35 triples and fifth in runs 454 and doubles 134.
Individually, center fielder Travis Jankowski is tied for the national lead with 10 triples, second with 75 runs, tied for sixth with 36 steals and ranks seventh in hitting (.417).
Third baseman Willy Carmona is third in the country with 165 total bases, tied for seventh with 70 RBIs and in a seven-man bottleneck for 11th place with 23 doubles.
Ready when needed
In a perfect world, LSU sophomore Ryan Eades would just as soon take a few more days off and shift his focus to a potential start on college baseball’s biggest stage.
But if he’s needed this weekend, Eades is ready for his chance.
“If we can take of business in two games, that would be great,” said Eades, who is slated to start the if-necessary game on Sunday. “I’ll be ready to go if Game 3 is necessary and I’ll be ready to go. It’s always my goal to stay focused and work hard like I always have. If it calls for Game 3, I’ll be ready for the ball and I’ll go out there and do whatever I can to give us the best chance to win that I can.”
That’s been a challenge for Eades over the final two months of the season, but he has showed some tenacity in his last three outings.
Two of those three games are resulted in LSU wins – one to clinch the SEC regular-season championship and the other to win the regional.
Eades was long gone by the time those games were decided, but his contributions, while not perfect, have contributed by keeping the Tigers close.
“I’m proud that I’m still competing as hard I can,” he said. “A few pitches here and there have been the difference. It’s frustrating, but I just have to make an adjustment and bear down and focus.”