HOOVER, Ala. — This time last year, Kyle Bouman’s next move in his college pitching career was very much unknown.
His junior college team in Missouri had gone winless in a regional tournament, ending its season. Bouman was left sitting at home, waiting for a call from, preferably, a major college team with a roster opening.
“Now,” Bouman said, “it’s a little bit different.”
Bouman gets the nod against Arkansas at noon Saturday in a Southeastern Conference tournament semifinal.
It’s a chance for redemption and a shot to prove he can be LSU’s No. 3 game starter as the Tigers head into an NCAA regional.
“If he goes out there against a good SEC team and pitches his heart out,” coach Paul Mainieri said, “it’ll give you a lot of confidence next week.”
Bouman’s last start against the Razorbacks didn’t go so well. He allowed a first-inning grand slam in a one-inning start, but he’s since flushed the memory from that 10-4 loss on April 13.
He hopes to have a better first frame than his last two predecessors. Starters Jared Poché and Aaron Nola each had a rocky first inning in wins Wednesday and Thursday.
“I’m usually one for having a rough first inning,” Bouman said with a smile. “I’ll be excited if we’re out of the first.”
Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn will be watching closely.
LSU (42-14-1), the No. 3 seed in the tournament, has put itself in position to host an NCAA regional. A win over 7 seed Arkansas (38-22) would be that much better.
If LSU does host a regional, the Tigers would likely throw Bouman in a 1-4 matchup in the regional opener at Alex Box Stadium. If they’re on the road, Bouman might be expected to win a regional championship final.
“That third starter is critical, as is your bullpen,” Mainieri said, “because to win this tournament and win the tournament next weekend, we’re going to have to win some games without Jared Poché and Aaron Nola pitching.”
LSU’s bullpen is fresh.
In fact, the Tigers’ group of relievers are nearly too unused.
Mainieri threw Joe Broussard with a five-run lead in the ninth against Arkansas just to get his closer some work.
LSU hasn’t thrown a reliever more than an inning in the first two games of the SEC tournament, leaving the Tigers positioned well on the mound for a possible championship run Saturday and Sunday.
Mainieri has used just three relievers, and they’ve thrown a combined 22 pitches: Nate Fury (one pitch), Zac Person (2) and Broussard (19). Jared Poché pitched a complete seven-inning game on Wednesday, a result of the mercy rule coming into play. LSU beat Vanderbilt 11-1 in that game.
“Obviously in a tournament like this, that’s a huge advantage,” Dunn said. “To win it, it’s going to be two days of using our pen. I’m excited that we are fresh.”
Alden Cartwright, Kurt McCune and Parker Bugg will be leaned on. LSU plans on piecing together the championship game on the mound if the Tigers beat Arkansas on Saturday.
“I can bet on Bouman going at least five tomorrow,” Cartwright said. “We may only have to use two relievers tomorrow or three max. And we’ll have our whole bullpen against the next day. I don’t see why there’s any reason that we shouldn’t win this tournament.
“I don’t think any other team is as good as piecing together a game like we are,” he said.
Mainieri is 20-10 against Arkansas in his eight years at LSU. … The Tigers will be making their 16th appearance in the SEC tournament championship game if they win.