If Paul Mainieri were a fortune teller, he would have started his second-best pitcher Saturday night against Alabama.
But he isn’t, so the LSU baseball coach will have to live with the decision he made to save freshman Jared Poché for a Sunday Southeastern Conference showdown with Alabama that never came.
The rubber match between LSU and Alabama was washed out by thunderstorms Sunday, potentially putting a dent into the SEC records of two squads battling to remain in contention for NCAA regional bids and the SEC West title.
“It’s unfortunate,” a frustrated Mainieri said after the decision to cancel the game. “Not getting an opportunity to play when you have your No. 2 starter supposed to go, it’s kind of disappointing, but it is what it is. You deal with it, and you go forward.”
The teams split a doubleheader Saturday after Friday’s game was postponed by weather. LSU won the first game 2-0 but lost 5-1 in the late game, with Alden Cartwright starting and a bevy of relievers following — a group Mainieri calls “Johnny Wholestaff.”
Without a solid No. 3 starter, Mainieri has used the group of relievers in Game 3s for the past month. He decided to treat Saturday’s night Game 2 as a Game 3 to give “Johnny Wholestaff” more rest for this upcoming slew of games — against Northwestern State on Tuesday and at Auburn on Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the SEC tournament begins for LSU the following Tuesday or Wednesday.
That led to his decision to move Poché’s start from Saturday to Sunday.
“If they would have pitched today, Johnny Wholestaff would have pitched Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday,” the coach said. “I thought that would have been too much. They would have had to pitch in that order and start the first game of the SEC tournament as well.”
Sunday’s game never began. Poché, a freshman from Lutcher, never tossed a pitch over the weekend. At home in SEC starts, he has shined, allowing just six earned runs in four starts.
“I don’t regret not pitching him,” Mainieri said. “I think it was the right thing to do. How could you predict you’re not going to get the game in? This hasn’t happened to us for the first seven years.”
Much longer than that, actually. The last time LSU did not play all three games of an SEC series came in 2002 in a series against Mississippi State.
There will be no makeup date for this one. The 1-1 split with the Tide is another oddity in a somewhat screwy season. The Tigers tied with Georgia, the first tie in nearly six years.
In a final regular-season series at 13th-place Auburn (27-25, 10-17), LSU is in must-win mode to get what Mainieri wants: to bypass the single-elimination round of the SEC tournament and land a host role for an NCAA regional. For both to happen, the Tigers likely need to finish in the top four in the conference.
LSU (36-14-1, 14-11-1) sits in sixth in the league, trailing a trio of teams that are tied for third with a 16-11 league record: South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
The first two play each other next week. Mississippi State plays at Alabama (32-19, 14-12).
“So much will be depending on what happens in other series,” Mainieri said. “Everybody will be going into the last weekend with something at stake. Should make for an exciting finish, that’s for sure.”
What wasn’t exciting? Sunday.
The game was officially canceled at 4:43 p.m., nearly four hours after its scheduled start time.
The teams were set to meet at 1 p.m. Rain and lightning had fans scurrying for cover about 45 minutes before first pitch, and the tarp was pulled onto the infield.
An estimated 2,000 fans hung around for more than three hours, and another 500 to 1,000 were lingering before the game was called because of lightning.
“Both sides really wanted to play today. The weather just didn’t allow us to,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “Paul’s probably a little frustrated Poché didn’t get to throw today. But it’s part of what we do, and now we move on to the next weekend.”
It jostles an LSU pitching rotation that relies so heavily on its only two solid starters: ace Aaron Nola and Poché.
Poché will start Thursday at Auburn. Nola will pitch Friday, and Mainieri will use his group of relievers Saturday. There’s a “good chance” Poché will start for LSU to open the SEC tournament.
That’s all down the road, though. That Poché didn’t get a shot against Alabama was still frustrating for an emotional Mainieri.
“I don’t think there’s any silver lining,” he said. “Really, I wished we would have played today. That’s the bottom line.”