HOOVER, Ala. — Paul Mainieri walked into Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, smiled and said to a stadium attendant: “This place gets better every time we come.”
LSU is back at the Hoover Met — in the regular season.
The Tigers (24-5, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) meet Alabama (15-12, 4-5) in a Thursday-Saturday three-game series at the Hoover Met, the home of the SEC baseball tournament. LSU has won five SEC tournament titles in the past seven years at the stadium.
Bama is playing its home games at the Met while its on-campus stadium undergoes renovations.
“I reminded our players of so many of the great victories that we’ve had here — even against Alabama, quite frankly,” Mainieri said Wednesday. “We just play with a lot of confidence on this field. We love it.”
Mainieri is 22-4 at this venue. His teams have won five times in their past six trips to the suburb just south of Birmingham, including last season’s sizzling 4-0 run at the tournament.
The Met will play different in this regular season and in the SEC tournament later this year. The fences have been moved in — 15 feet in the power alleys to 375 and 5 feet down the line to 335.
“Last couple of years, feels like you could run forever in the outfield,” right fielder Mark Laird said. “It’s going to help to run down balls in the gaps.”
LSU practiced for two hours at the stadium Wednesday evening following a whirlwind 12 hours. The Tigers beat UL-Lafayette on Tuesday night at Zephyr Field in Metairie and drove through the night on a sleeper bus.
They arrived at 5:30 a.m., slept in until 1 p.m., lifted weights at Hoover High and then made the trip to the Hoover Met.
“We’ve had a lot of success here in my career,” Laird said. “May still be a little different atmosphere, but it doesn’t take a way that we have a good quality opponent we’ll be facing.”
Freshman Beau Jordan arrived to Zephyr Field on Tuesday, glanced at the LSU lineup posted on the dugout wall and saw his name.
“I didn’t know until I got to the field,” he said Wednesday night before batting practice, all smiles. “It was really exciting. Everybody’s like, ‘Are you nervous?’ Everybody was just messing with me.”
So was he nervous for his fist career start?
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous, but I had a couple of jitters,” he said.
Jordan, a Lake Charles native, went 1-for-4 in the Tigers’ 8-6 win over the Ragin’ Cajuns. He’s just five weeks removed from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee.
Laird prevented shortstop Alex Bregman from a chance to hit for the cycle with his double play in the eighth inning.
But he didn’t realize it until seeing posts on Twitter, he said. With Bregman on the on deck circle and a single away from hitting for the cycle, Laird hit into a 4-6-3 DP to end the inning.
“It didn’t hit me until after the game and I was like, ‘Ugh,’” Laird said Wednesday. “I kind of felt bad.”
Bregman hasn’t said anything to Laird about it, the outfielder said.
Fraley progressing quickly
Left fielder Jake Fraley could play in Thursday’s series opener against the Tide after all.
Fraley is recovering quicker than first anticipated from the hamstring he strained in a loss Sunday at Kentucky. He received “more aggressive treatment” on the right hamstring on Tuesday and is “feeling better even today,” Mainieri said.
Fraley took batting practice with the team Wednesday night and ran some. Mainieri will make a decision on his availability Thursday, he said. Fraley has served some as the leadoff hitter and is one of the Tigers’ fastest players.
Deichmann didn’t travel
Freshman Greg Deichmann was one of seven players who did not make the trip to Hoover, Mainieri said.
The Tigers also left behind pitchers Kyle Bouman, Jake Latz, Brady Domingue, Ryan May and Russell Reynolds. SEC teams are restricted to traveling just 27 players. Deichmann, a Brother Martin graduate, had seen a few pinch-hit appearances since recovering from a stress reaction in his foot he suffered in preseason practice.
LSU (24-5, 5-4) vs. Alabama (15-12, 4-5)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Hoover, Alabama
Rankings: LSU is ranked in the top 5, and as high as No. 2, in all six major polls. Alabama is not ranked.
Projected starting pitchers:
- Thursday: LSU So. LHP Jared Poché (5-1, 3.48) vs. UA Sr. LHP Taylor Guilbeau (2-2, 3.07)
- Friday: LSU Fr. RHP Alex Lange (5-0, .120) vs. UA Jr. RHP Will Carter (1-3, 5.91)
- Saturday: LSU Fr. RHP Jake Godfrey (5-0, 3.21) vs. UA So. RHP Geoffrey Bramblett (4-1, 3.67)
Online Streaming: Online only at SEC Network-plus, which is accessible at SECNetwork.com and the Watch ESPN app.
Radio: WDGL 98.1 FM (Baton Rouge); KLWB 103.7 FM (Lafayette); WWL 870 AM, WWL 105.3 FM (New Orleans)
In-game updates: @DellengerAdv
What to watch: Poché followed the worst start of his life – those are his words – with one of the best last week, retiring the first 12 batters in a Game 1 loss to Kentucky. Last time he started on the road, the sophomore gave up 10 hits and five runs to Arkansas in less than four innings. LSU puts its .329 team batting average – second in the nation – against Taylor Guilbeau, a Slaughter native.
Know your opponent: The Tide lost series earlier this season to UL-Lafayette and Houston, but UA won two of three over Mississippi State and handed Texas A&M its first loss of the season. The Tide, which has a lofty RPI of 16, last lost two of three at Florida.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.