Southeastern Louisiana coach Matt Riser was not happy after the Lions’ 11-4 loss to LSU last week.
After the game, Riser called Southeastern’s failure to seriously threaten the Tigers embarrassing.
More importantly, he said Southeastern was still a long way from making the jump from a relative powerhouse among small schools to a major player in college baseball.
The problem isn’t the offense. The Lions outscored opponents 287-149 this season and have one of the nation’s best hitters in Jameson Fisher, who leads Division I with a .446 batting average.
Southeastern’s starting pitchers are also some of the best in the country. The highest ERA among weekend starters is 2.11. They’ve propelled the whole staff to the nation’s fourth-best ERA (2.59).
The problem is what to do when the offense can’t simply outscore teams and the starting pitchers can’t throw anymore.
The Lions need a bullpen.
“We have to find a couple more pieces we know we can count on — especially once tournament time comes.” Riser said. “If we’re fortunate enough to get there, we’re going to need some of those arms.
“At some point in time, they have to make a decision to do it or not do it, because this isn’t a charity event. This isn’t a tryout. We’re trying to win ballgames and if they can’t get the job done, we’ll find somebody who can.”
Southeastern lost six relievers from last season, accounting for 67 total innings. That number increases to 120.1 innings if Mac Sceroler and Domenick Carlini are included; they were both moved to the weekend starting rotation this season.
As a result, the Lions have been forced to extend starters into later innings and bring in closer Kade Granier early.
Southeastern’s starting pitchers have gone longer than almost any other top 10 ERA team in Division I.
Only Rice’s weekend starters have pitched more innings (199.1) than the SLU trio of Sceroler, Carlini and Friday ace Kyle Cedotal, who have thrown 187 innings in 30 starts.
Cedotal averages 7.1 innings per outing, the second-most of any pitcher on a top 10 ERA staff.
Of Granier’s 14 appearances as closer this season, he has entered nine before the final inning. Three times this season, he has closed games with nine or more outs remaining.
The sophomore has six saves and a team-low 0.33 ERA through 27 innings, the most of any nonstarter.
Just two weeks ago against UL-Lafayette, Southeastern had to consider bringing in Granier during the sixth inning to relieve Carlini. Riser instead chose to throw midweek starter Pat Cashman in the hopes of shortening Granier’s appearance.
Cashman gave up two runs on 17 pitches before the Lions brought in Granier to finish the game with 3.2 innings of two-hit, shutout baseball. Southeastern lost 5-4.
“At times, we’re a little hesitant to pull guys, but I think part of the challenge for us has been Derrick (Mount) and Drew (Avans) playing (in the field) every day,” Southeastern pitching coach Daniel Latham said. “Drew is starting every day in left field and that takes him out of the bullpen.”
Avans and Mount were expected to contribute heavily to the bullpen this season, and they’ve done so as much as possible.
Avans has the second lowest ERA on the team (1.23) and the second-most saves (three) after Granier, but only has 14.2 innings under his belt this year. Mount, who plays third base, has just nine innings.
The Lions have experimented with putting Avans at the designated hitter spot to make it easier for him to come into relief, but Latham said that most likely won’t be permanent.
“I like doing both but I’ll go to the outfield or go into the bullpen any day of the week if they ask me to,” Avans said. “As far as experience, I think that’s all in the head. No matter if you pitch one inning or 10 innings, you have to be ready to go out and do your job.”