Gil LeBreton

LSU must have missed memo about left-handed hitting TCU

TCU pitcher Preston Morrison held LSU to one run on five hits in seven innings.
TCU pitcher Preston Morrison held LSU to one run on five hits in seven innings. AP

Behold the latest chapter of the Frog and the Prince:

One played like a king Sunday. The other was an outplayed, unraveled LSU.

Can it be that some teams, even here at the College World Series, still haven’t gotten the memo about TCU?

Is it possible that even after 50 wins and a pitching staff that ranks No. 2 in the nation, there are people that still haven’t noticed?

In interviews leading up to Sunday’s College World Series opener, LSU coaches talked about what a “great matchup” — usually that’s a code phrase for “easier pickings” — the TCU Horned Frogs were for the Southeastern Conference champion Tigers.

Disdaining his staff ace, coach Paul Mainieri elected to start his No. 2, Jared Poche’, a left-hander.

Sigh. Et tu, LSU?

After the Frogs chased Poche’, held their poise as the six-time Omaha champion Tigers came apart at the whiskers, and turned Sunday’s showcase into a 10-3 rout, you have to ask, “Didn’t anyone read the scouting reports?”

Maybe not. In the postgame interview room, Mainieri acted as if the outcome was the most astonishing thing he ever saw.

“Things just kind of unraveled for us there in the fourth inning,” the LSU coach said. “It’s amazing. I’ve been in this game a long time, and sometimes you see things you haven’t seen for years.”

Mainieri cited a play at the plate where, he claimed, “99 out of 100 times a runner scores on that ball.”

Back-to-back throwing errors by Poche’ followed in the fourth inning and, according to Mainieri, “The turnaround was so immediate. It spiraled out of control there.”

Poof. Magic. The Frogs were suddenly a prince.

But that’s not quite the way it happened. Poche’s wildness dug an even deeper hole for LSU in the fifth inning. And the Frogs kept hitting, scoring four more times in the seventh.

“We led the Big 12 in hitting,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said later. “It’s not like we’ve been anemic all year.”

Maybe the Tigers were so busy in the SEC that they didn’t notice. Maybe they looked at the Frogs’ final two Super Regional games against Texas A&M, a 2-1 defeat and a 5-4 survival that took 16 innings, and they failed to be adequately impressed.

Whatever it was, Mainieri’s decision to start Poche’ over Alex Lange, 11-0 on the season with a 1.89 ERA, seemed to speak volumes.

Again with the left-handers.

Sigh. Doesn’t anybody read the stat sheets any more?

Even against lefty Poche’, TCU penciled its usual five left-handed hitters into Sunday’s starting lineup. North Carolina State twice threw lefties at the Frogs in the NCAA regional, and the Aggies did the same the next week.

The Frogs, however, have no visible fear of lefties, Schlossnagle pointed out. They knew that with a left-handed lineup, they would face a lot of lefties this season.

As far back as fall practices, Schlossnagle explained, the left-handed swinging Frogs prepared. The pitching machines in the new Louden hitting facility at Lupton Stadium mimicked lefties.

“When you see it all year long,” Schlossnagle said, “eventually you get used to it.

“So I think some of that is a little overblown, especially when you look at our numbers. A lot of the left-handed hitters hit lefties better than righties.”

The coach is right. Freshman DH Connor Wanhanen, who bats left-handed and had three hits Sunday, began the day batting .365 against lefties. As a lefty against a lefty, first baseman Jeremie Fagnan bats .319. Catcher Evan Skoug, another lefty hitter, had a .294 average against the same side. Switch-hitter Cody Jones was hitting .297 against southpaws.

Those aren’t confidential numbers. Yet, LSU opted for its second-best starter.

Granted, Poche’ would have started one game or the other, either Sunday’s or Tuesday’s.

But Mainieri’s decision suggested that he privately was planning for Game 2, possibly against SEC Vanderbilt, before he had even won Game 1.

Did he not get the memo, the one about the Frogs?

“I just know we have eight seniors,” Schlossnagle said. “These guys have been in three Super Regionals, two College World Series, and they played in so many close games that they’re used to playing them.

“I know we get downplayed physically, compared to other teams. But, I mean, we’re not bad. We’ve won 50 games playing in the Big 12, and that’s pretty good.”

On a day when they were matched against an LSU program that has long been a part of College World Series royalty, it was the Horned Frogs who kept their poise and performed like kings.

Shame on the Tigers for seeming so surprised.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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