LSU is eager to start Southeastern Conference play this weekend, but first the Tigers have business to tend to against Nicholls State at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Alex Box Stadium.
At 15-1 and on a 10-game winning streak, second-ranked LSU appears primed to take on No. 10 Mississippi State beginning Friday in Starkville, Miss. But first things first.
“I explained to the players that the media and everybody else is probably going to start asking them about Mississippi State, and you need to remember that we are not playing Mississippi State next,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We’re playing Nicholls State next, and that’s the approach we have to take, because if we look past Nicholls State, they’ll come in here and whip us.”
The Colonels (9-8) already have played a tight game against LSU, losing 2-0 on March 3 in Alex Box.
“They came into our place not long ago and played us a close game,” Tigers outfielder Raph Rhymes said. “They battled and had no quit in them. That shows the kind of club they have.
“We just want to play a complete game. It’s a good test for us. We need to treat this one like it’s an SEC game.”
Freshman right-hander Russell Reynolds of Parkview Baptist will make his first start for LSU. He has no record and a 4.50 earned run average after two relief appearances.
This will be Reynolds’ first appearance in 18 days because he was sidelined by minor soreness in his pitching shoulder.
“He has thrown good side work,” Mainieri said. “He has a good arm, and he can be a very vital pitcher for us as we go forward.”
Mainieri said Ryenolds stood out as “the most advanced” of LSU’s five freshman pitchers during fall practice, but Hunter Newman, Hunter Devall and Taylor Butler caught up to him while he was sidelined. The fifth freshman, Mitchell Sewald, has yet to pitch.
“We thought he could help us right away coming out of the fall,” Mainieri said. “Hopefully he’ll get back in that groove he was in during the fall. His fastball was about 93 miles per hour, he has a good, hard curve and a good feel for pitching.”
Wednesday’s game is Reynolds’ first audition for possible future mid-week starts. In his first relief appearance he entered the Feb. 17 game against Maryland with LSU leading 6-2 and he gave up two hits and one run while pitching the seventh inning.
In his second appearance on Feb. 23 against BYU he entered the game with the Tigers trailing 9-3 and pitched a perfect ninth, striking out one.
“There wasn’t much pressure on me in those two situations,” Reynolds said. “But I’m not going to put pressure on myself because I’m starting.
“I’ve been ready to get out there and I couldn’t. They had to hold me back. I’m really excited to get back out there and pitch. The shoulder feels good. I’m ready to go.”
Mainieri said Reynolds will pitch a maximum of three innings, then he’ll send “a parade of pitchers” to the mound.
LSU’s lineup against Colonels junior right-hander Brandon Jackson will be essentially the same one Mainieri plans to use over the weekend, though it’s unclear if Mississippi State will start a right-hander or a left-hander on Friday.
The LSU players will wear light blue batting helmets as part of Prostate Cancer Awareness night. The theme of the night is “Stay Ahead of the Count and Get Checked!” to encourage men to have prostate exams that allow for early detection of cancer. The first 1,500 fans will receive a Prostate Cancer Awareness T-shirt.
Mainieri said his father and the father of Nicholls State coach Seth Thibodeaux are prostate cancer survivors.