Back injury forces O’Neal Lochridge to rule out a return to LSU for 2016-17 _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU third baseman O'Neal Lochridge (9) throws to first between innings against Sacramento State, Friday, February 26, 2016, LSU's Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field in Baton Rouge, La.

The uncertainty surrounding O’Neal Lochridge’s back has forced the rising sophomore into a difficult decision.

Lochridge, who suffered a flare up of a stress fracture in his back and is currently in a torso cast for three months, ruled out playing for LSU next season. The St. Thomas More product will continue to attend LSU and focus on his education.

“It’s not that it’s not going to heal, it will eventually heal, but it’s a timing process,” Lochridge told The Advocate on Wednesday. “(With) the uncertainty of exactly when, it’s better that instead of going to a JUCO where I’m not sure if I’ll play or when I’ll play, I want to have the assurance that I get an education that I would get at LSU.”

The Tigers’ starting third baseman, Lochridge suffered the flare up in mid-March, just before Southeastern Conference play began. Lochridge rehabbed and, eventually, took full batting practice while being a full participant in pregame warmups before the Tigers’ midweek game against McNeese State on April 12, but the injury responded unfavorably.

Chris Reid stepped in, starting 47 games and hitting .287 while playing for his injured classmate.

“The doctors have told me it’s going to 100 percent heal,” Lochridge said. “But with these types of injuries, it’s not whether or not it’s going to heal, it’s when. It’s smart to give it the time it needs rather than push it.”

LSU coach Paul Mainieri said Wednesday that Lochridge would not be on the Tigers’ 2016-17 roster. The coach said Tuesday that he believed Lochridge and pitcher Alden Cartwright would qualify for a medical redshirt, though the paperwork had not yet been filed.

“I’m concerned that he didn’t play hardly at all this spring, and he’s not going to play at all this summer,” Mainieri said in an interview with The Advocate on Tuesday, a day before Lochridge’s announcement. “The competition is going to be pretty intense this fall. The infield position was a position we were very thin in this year, but next year I think our depth is going to be as good as you can expect it to be.”

Lochridge, a general business major, said though he will now focus strictly on his education, he will not rule out a return to baseball — wherever that may be — once his injury heals.

“If everything works out that I’ll be able to play and (Mainieri) will give me a shot, we’ll go from there,” Lochridge said. “But it’s a decision that we’ll have to talk about amongst everybody.”

“LSU’s my No. 1 priority, my hope and wish. But it all depends on coach, my back and whatever my best options are.”

Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome