Glenn Guilbeau / USA Today
BATON ROUGE – The record has stood for 42 seasons, but LSU’s pitching staff has a chance to break it this season.
Tiger pitchers have thrown a school record 17 shutouts this season in 59 games so far, smashing the previous record of 10 by the pitching staff from the national championship team of 1996 in 67 games with pitchers Patrick Coogan, Brett Laxton and Eddie Yarnall.
The NCAA record is 24 set in 1972 by Arizona State, which reached the College World Series that season. The Southeastern Conference record is not recorded in the conference’s media guide.
The Tigers have a dozen or more games remaining this season if they advance all the way to the national championship series at the CWS in Omaha, Neb. They have thrown four shutouts in their last 10 games alone and have had back-to-back shutouts four times this season.
“I remember getting to 10 and tying the school record,” said LSU junior right-handed ace Aaron Nola, who has shut out opponents in seven of his 15 starts. “The NCAA record is 24, and we are slowly getting there. Hopefully we can get some more.”
LSU (44-14-1) plays Southeastern Louisiana (37-23) at 2 p.m. Friday in the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional opener at Alex Box Stadium on ESPN3.
NOLA OR POCHE?: LSU coach Paul Mainieri was leaning toward starting Aaron Nola, a junior right-hander, instead of freshman left-hander Jared Poche in the opener against Southeastern Louisiana. Nola (10-1, 1.49 ERA) has been LSU’s regular Friday starter and was named the SEC’s pitcher of the year this week for the second straight season. Poche (9-3, 2.21 ERA) has recently been nearly as dominant as Nola.
“If we play Houston in the second game, they have seven left-handed hitters, so I don’t know if I want to put Aaron up against that,” Mainieri said.
Conventional baseball wisdom says hitters generally have the advantage when the hitter and the pitcher are opposite handed. “Poche being left-handed would probably be better for us against Houston,” Mainieri said.
But Houston (44-15) is not necessarily going to beat Bryant (42-14) in the 7 p.m. game Friday. Bryant beat Arkansas in a NCAA Regional opener last season.
LSU could also lose to Southeastern Louisiana and meet Bryant in the loser’s bracket game at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Tigers, though, are 21-0 in NCAA Regional openers at Alex Box Stadium. There have been some narrow NCAA Regional opening wins by LSU recently – 11-7 over Jackson State last season and 4-1 over Louisiana-Monroe in 2012. And there was a 5-4 win over Southern in the 2002 NCAA Regional opener.
An LSU-Houston meeting at 7 p.m. Saturday is the safe prediction based on seeds as the Tigers are the No. 1 seed in the Baton Rouge Regional and No. 8 national seed. Houston is the No. 2 seed in the Baton Rouge Regional. If LSU does play Houston Saturday, there is another reason Poche would be the better choice to Mainieri.
“Houston likes to run,” he said. “Obviously, a left-handed pitcher would help curtail the running game.”
Left-handed pitchers have an advantage over right-handed pitchers in holding runners at first base as they can make a quicker toss. “I know you guys want to know now, but we’ll let you know on Thursday,” Mainieri said.
HOT TIGERS: LSU enjoyed a day off Monday after four games over the previous five days in the SEC Tournament. The Tigers also did not practice Wednesday because of rain.
Some Tigers have not enjoyed the time off. They would have preferred to keep on playing, particularly considering that LSU has won eight straight and is averaging 10.8 runs and 13.7 hits a game over those last games.
“I wish we could get out there today,” said designated hitter Sean McMullen, who hit a two-run home run in the eighth Sunday for the 2-0 win over Florida in the SEC Tournament title game. “I’m ready to play now.”