LSU’s five seniors are playing their final Southeastern Conference series in Alex Box Stadium as they take on Vanderbilt this weekend. They will be honored before the game Saturday night.
Shortstop Austin Nola, third baseman Tyler Hanover, designated hitter Grant Dozar and infielder Beau Didier are completing four-year careers, and catcher Jordy Snikeris is completing a two-year career after transferring from a junior college.
“It’s a special group of seniors for me,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. “They’re such special kids, not just because of the way they play, but because they’re all what I classify as program guys — guys who love the LSU baseball program who will do anything for it. They’re going to be sorely missed, but their legacy will live on forever, because they’ve contributed so much.”
Mainieri called Nola, who played at Catholic High, “as fine a shortstop as I’ve ever coached.”
“Saturday night is going to be an exciting night,” Nola said, “but I hate to even think about it, because I never thought it would go by this quickly.”
The weekend could be even more exciting if the Tigers can clinch the SEC Western Division title a year after finishing last and failing to qualify for the conference tournament.
“You get to come out here and play in front of all these wonderful fans,” Dozar said. “I’m going to look around and think about the four years of my life that I spent here. It’s going to be surreal thinking about all the highs and the lows. It’s going to be a special weekend.”
LSU plans to have a fireworks show after Saturday’s game, weather permitting.
Not done yet
Even though the seniors are being honored Saturday, it won’t be their farewell to The Box.
In addition to the series finale Sunday, the Tigers have a nonconference game at home against Nicholls State on Tuesday and presumably some NCAA tournament regional games at The Box.
‘Season for the ages’
LSU outfielder Raph Rhymes is having what Mainieri called “a season for the ages” as Rhymes has an NCAA-leading .500 batting average going into the series.
Mainieri gets a first-hand look at Rhymes’ disciplined and consistent swing virtually every day when he pitches batting practice to him and his teammates.
“I marvel at him in batting practice every day,” Mainieri said. “If I pitch him inside, he pulls the ball into left field. If I pitch him the other way, he slaps the ball into right field. If I pitch him down the middle, I duck.”
Rhymes has been hitting opposing pitchers the same way he hits Mainieri.
“It’s a very unique skill to be able to hit to all fields like that,” Mainieri said. “You can’t put a shift on him.”
Sophomore second baseman JaCoby Jones had seasons in high school similar to the one Rhymes is having now. Jones batted over .500 each of his past three seasons as he became Mississippi’s all-time leader in hits.
Jones said it has been a difficult adjustment to facing SEC pitching after being used to getting two or three hits nearly every night.
“I wasn’t used to dealing with failure,” Jones said. “But my teammates, coaches, family and friends all keep telling me to keep my head up and keep playing because it happens in baseball. It happens to major leaguers. It’s good to know that when I come out of this I’ll be able to look back at my sophomore year and know that I can come back from anything.”
Jones, who’s batting .265 for the season and was recently moved from first to last in the batting order, showed signs of coming around at Ole Miss last weekend. He had five hits and seven RBIs, including an opposite-field homer, in the past two games.