Flaw in SEC baseball scheduling: Not enough LSU vs. South Carolina
COLUMBIA — LSU wrestled an SEC regular season baseball championship away from South Carolina on Saturday with a 3-2 victory in a 10-inning thriller televised nationally.
The series opener Friday afternoon might have been better with Kevin Gausman throwing 96-mph fastballs at the Gamecocks and Michael Roth baffling LSU hitters for most of a 5-2 loss.
There were so many loud moments over three wonderful games, including an Adam Matthews double Friday night that almost everyone at Carolina Stadium thought was a homer.
As the crowd was alternately cheering and booing, LSU second baseman JaCoby Jones sidled up to Matthews.
“It gets loud in here,” Jones said.
Matthews, standing on the bag, nodded.
“Yeah, man,” the Gamecocks' senior outfielder said. “It's a lot of fun to play here.”
No surprise that two elite programs so evenly matched had to go to extra innings in a rubber-match game on the last day of the season to decide the SEC title.
But what a shame that LSU, the program with six national titles, and South Carolina, two-time defending College World Series champs, were playing each other for the first time since …
“It's crazy,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “LSU hasn't played Carolina in three years. Isn't that crazy?”
Blame the SEC office for poor scheduling, or the greedy mindset of expansion.
Blame football. Blame something. This is an outrage.
Ray Tanner pointed out that his Gamecocks have yet to play in LSU's new and improved Alex Box Stadium. The jewel of a facility has been open for three years.
LSU ranks first nationally in average home attendance, South Carolina fourth.
“For many years, LSU did set the standard,” Tanner said. “You tried to get to that point. I'm not saying our program is as good as LSU's or anything like that, but the environment is. I don't think it gets any better. The two programs, we have tremendous respect for each other.”
Mainieri talked as if related to Tanner.
“Let me tell you something,” he said. “I can't say this enough: I just think if Ray Tanner is not the very best coach in college baseball, it's a small crowd.”
Expanding from 12 to 14 teams, SEC scheduling gets more difficult starting in 2013.
At least the Gamecocks have LSU back on the docket (in Baton Rouge) while dropping series with Alabama and Auburn and picking up newcomers Texas A&M (home) and Missouri (road).
So stop and smell the magnolias.
Gausman, a draft-eligible sophomore likely to be a top-five pick in the major league draft next month, was the best pitching prospect to take the mound at Carolina Stadium this season.
“He's a guy that I think doesn't need a whole lot of seasoning in the minor leagues,” Tanner said. “He's special.”
“If I were the No. 1 team picking (Houston Astros), I'd have a hard time passing on him,” he said.
Joey Pankake of South Carolina did more Friday night than knock in the go-ahead run in the Gamecocks' 5-4 victory. The freshman shortstop won a fan a tractor in a John Deere promotion promising the prize for a sixth-inning Gamecocks triple.
It was the first such triple this season and prompted Pankake to change his walk-up music for Saturday's game: Kenny Chesney's “She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy.”
The South Carolina fans got a kick out of that, and impressed the Tigers with their support.
“They have great fans,” said LSU relief pitcher Chris Cotton, the winning pitcher Saturday. “This is a great environment, a great stadium. It was electric.”
It was LSU vs. South Carolina.
It was overdue.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff.