Three years ago Tuesday night, the legend of the rally possum was born at Alex Box Stadium.
If the rally possum were around LSU baseball today, he would probably have an injured tail, or be struggling to live up to the standards of seasons past.
It is starting to seem like a long time ago that LSU reached the final of the 2017 College World Series before losing in two games against the Florida Gators. It was a series that could well have gone LSU’s way had then-freshman pitcher Eric Walker not gone down with an arm injury that shelved him for all of 2018 — an injury he still hasn’t completely recovered from.
Josh Smith sat for a long time in the LSU dugout.
It was all an ominous sign for LSU baseball, which has been beset ever since by key injuries, the natural attrition of key players, and players who either haven’t come through with the seasons the Tigers have needed or not panned out.
Since that championship series, LSU is 69-46 overall and 29-25 in Southeastern Conference play after Tuesday night’s disheartening 12-1 loss to Louisiana Tech. Certainly not abysmal results, but certainly not the standards upon which LSU baseball has built its legendary reputation.
It all set up so well for the Tigers coming into 2019, especially with the heady news that three key draft eligible players — Zack Hess, Zach Watson and Antoine Duplantis — were returning. It smacked of Louis Coleman’s decision to return for what turned out to be a national championship season in 2009, especially as far as Hess was concerned.
Those three haven’t been bad, but they have not been dominant stars, either. Watson entered Tuesday’s game batting .337 with 30 RBIs, well above last season’s .308 average and only four RBIs shy of last season’s mark. But he was batting sixth against Louisiana Tech after coach Paul Mainieri shuffled him out of the lead off spot from last weekend in a season where he has been at different slots in the lineup throughout.
Duplantis came in hoping to be the one to break former LSU All-American Eddy Furniss’ SEC career hits record. That record has already fallen to Mississippi State’s Jake Mangum while Duplantis is hitting .310, off his .328 clip of 2018, though already with two more RBIs (50) and six more home runs (eight) than he had all of last season.
LSU baseball lost to Louisiana Tech 12-1, the Tigers' fifth loss to an in-state team this season.
And Hess? There has been no more controversial handling of an LSU pitcher that one can remember. He was pegged again as the Tigers’ Friday night ace, a role he served in last season going 7-6 with a 5.05 ERA. The role seemed to leach the “Wild Thing” stud closer stuff out of Hess that he showed in the march to the 2017 CWS final. Hess (3-3, 4.47) returned to the bullpen with stirring results in LSU’s only win last weekend against Ole Miss and appears destined for the pen this weekend at Arkansas, even with highly promising freshman Cole Henry again shelved with arm discomfort.
Should Hess start? Should he be the closer, especially now that Devin Fontenot has grown so erratic of late? Being a reliever seems to be the role Hess was born to play, and the pen is where he should stay now that he’s there. But it is a move that looks ill-fated since Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn didn’t know whether Henry would again be available when they made it.
Generally, though, LSU’s pitching staff is a M*A*S*H unit, with seven or eight of its pitchers suffering some sort of arm issues at some point this season. A lack of left-handed pitching since freshman Easton McMurray was lost for the season is a fair criticism of LSU’s coaching staff, but they figured to have had a lot more healthy options than this.
Shortstop Josh Smith pegged it well after Sunday’s wild 19-15, 10-inning loss to Ole Miss when he said the Tigers seemed to be missing that something to put them over the edge.
Maybe someone needs to locate the rally possum and let him roam the outfield again. Especially with this weekend’s difficult series looming at Arkansas, the opponent the critter made his world premiere against in 2016.
If you find him, ask him if he can give the Tigers a few quality innings on the mound, or drive in a two-out run. These guys could use the help.
LSU baseball slid in the latest rankings released on Monday.