The LSU baseball team’s trip to Texas got off to a rough start Thursday.
The team’s charter plane had a mechanical issue, grounding the flight and forcing the squad to change planes.
The Tigers left from the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport for College Station, Texas, at 11:30p.m., more than seven hours after they were orginally scheduled to depart.
LSU (34-11-1, 12-8-1 Southeastern Conference) begins a three-game series at Texas A&M (28-18, 10-11) on Friday.
“I talked to them a lot about dealing with that stuff as it comes,” coach Paul Mainieri said after deboarding the first plane at about 6:30 p.m. Thursday. “Bad weather, stuff like that. We’ll roll with it.”
The team’s first plane had a wing flap issue. The plane took off at about 4 p.m. and was in the air for 10-15 minutes before heading back to the airport.
The plane could not reach cruising altitude.
The team sat on the plane for more than an hour before the second attempt at departing. When pilots were going through the preflight check, the wing flaps didn’t pass the test, Mainieri said.
“Guess in the pilot world,” Mainieri said, “you just get two strikes.”
There was no turbulence while on the initial flight, but the plane landed with fire trucks and police vehicles escorting it onto the runway, Mainieri said.
“Little scary,” the coach said. “We weren’t high enough and the pilot came on and said we had a mechanic problem. Fire engines and police were chasing after us (landing).”
The plane circled the airport for “a while,” Mainieri said, to burn fuel before landing.
Wing flaps on a plane are used to reduce the speed at which an aircraft can be safely flown and to increase the angle of descent for landing.
The team was scheduled to practice at Texas A&M at 6:15 p.m. Thursday. Instead, players practiced at Alex Box Stadium.
Nola’s chance to rebound
This week feels so long for Aaron Nola.
Coming off of his worst start in more than a year, Nola is anxious to hop back on the mound Friday when LSU begins a three-game series at Texas A&M.
“It’s kind of a waiting game during the week,” said Nola, the Tigers’ ace. “It’s definitely feeling long right now.”
In his last start last Friday against Tennessee, Nola allowed eight hits, walked four and gave up five runs — tied for the most earned runs allowed in his career.
He entered the game having allowed seven runs in his 10 previous starts. The Volunteers scored two in the first inning, marking the first time since April 12, 2013, that Nola allowed two earned runs in one inning.
So what happened?
“My command,” Nola said. “I wasn’t making the quality pitches. I wasn’t hitting my spots like I usually do. My secondary stuff — my changeup and curveball — wasn’t really there that night. They were swinging early in counts. They weren’t seeing a ton of pitches from me. They were hitting my fastball. That kind of got to me.”
Nola’s ERA rose from 0.88 to 1.40 after the start. He’s 7-1.
He’ll face an A&M team that Mainieri compares to Mississippi State and Tennessee — aggressive and scrappy.
The Aggies have the third-best average in the league at .287. They’re fresh off winning a series at Mississippi State.
Nola will go against right-hander Parker Ray (4-3, 5.48). A&M will throw what’s seen as its No. 1 pitcher, right-hander Daniel Mengden (3-6, 4.00), on Saturday.
On the road again
LSU is returning to College Station, Texas, for a second straight year.
How’d that happen?
The SEC expanding to 14 teams in 2012 affected baseball schedules. One SEC West team had to play the same opponent on the road in back-to-back years. That team was LSU.
The SEC office gave Mainieri a choice when it made the schedule: return to Arkansas or Texas A&M.
“I said, ‘I’ll go to Texas A&M twice,’ ” Mainieri said smiling.
Mainieri admires newly renovated Blue Bell Park and the Aggies fans singing the Aggie War Hymn.
“Fans start interlocking and swaying back and forth and doing that chant that they do,” Mainieri said. “You really can’t help but be impressed with the tradition and history.”
LSU is facing all righty starters this weekend at Texas A&M.
That means more playing time for catcher/first baseman Tyler Moore, Mainieri said.
Moore, a lefty bat, will catch Friday. Moore being in the lineup this weekend means catcher Chris Chinea likely won’t start any of the three games, but could be used as a pinch hitter when A&M brings in a lefty reliever, Mainieri said.
The key starting question for the coach over the three games, he said: Who starts — second baseman Kramer Robertson or catcher/first baseman Kade Scivicque?
One player will likely be left out with Moore and first/second baseman Conner Hale in the lineup.
Mainieri is likely to start Runnels grad and freshman Alden Cartwright on Sunday if he hasn’t been used in the first two games of the series. ... After playing Alcorn State, LSU’s RPI dropped just one spot to No. 16, according to warrennolan.com. Alcorn’s RPI was the seventh-worst in the nation entering Tuesday’s game against the Tigers. … LSU leads Texas A&M 5-14-1 in the all-time series between the schools. The first meeting occurred in 1907 in Baton Rouge (a 3-2 LSU win). LSU has won nine of the last 10 meetings with Texas A&M, including a 2-1 series victory over the Aggies last season in College Station.