In its final tune up before Southeastern Conference series play begins, LSU (12-1) will treat its weekend series with Washington as just that – a conference weekend.
The Huskies will do their best to oblige.
After tinkering with the lineup as the team ran over Stephen F. Austin and Sacred Heart in the midweek, LSU coach Paul Mainieri said he’ll send the usual gauntlet of Tiger hitters out against the Huskies (4-8).
“I really want to treat these games as much like I would treat next weekend [at Mississippi State] as possible,” Mainieri said.
The Huskies will offer up what Mainieri calls an SEC-caliber arm in junior Austin Voth, the Pac-12 leader in strikeouts. Voth was a Cape Cod League All-Star this summer alongside Husky outfielder Robert Pehl and already has 31 strikeouts through 21.1 innings.
LSU junior first baseman Mason Katz recalled facing Voth in Cape Cod, where Voth hit in the mid-90s with his fastball and overpowered many of his opponents – something the Tigers will see regularly on Friday nights in the SEC.
“He’s a good arm,” Katz said. “He throws hard; a power guy. It’s good for us to be able to see that going forward, especially.”
Katz also played on Pehl’s team in Cape Cod, remembering him as a great hitter who uses all parts of the field and is especially fond of the right-center field gap.
Sophomore Aaron Nola will toe the rubber for the Tigers looking for his second win of the season. The hard-throwing righty has been stellar all season, but he hasn’t factored in the decision during his last two outings after underwhelming run support.
That needs to change tonight, Katz said, adding that the Tigers need to strike quickly against Voth to give Nola a cushion as he fills the strike zone with his patented pinpoint accuracy.
“We know what Aaron is going to give us, and we’re going to ride him like we always do,” Katz said. “Getting those runs out there for Aaron will be big to give him some comfort.”
Katz will team up with left fielder Raph Rhymes to present the biggest challenge of Voth’s night, with both seniors riding 11-game hitting streaks.
Junior third baseman Christian Ibarra also provides a challenge at the bottom of the order as the diminutive junior college transfer has quietly crept his way up the stat sheet with a .375 batting average, second on the team behind Rhymes.
Mainieri said both Katz and Rhymes’ early-season struggles didn’t worry him and now that the two have returned to form, he’s been able to recall a piece of advice bestowed to him as a young coach.
“Eventually the good hitters are going to hit,” Mainieri said. “Somebody once told me many years ago that ‘When the dust settles, the guys that are supposed to hit .400 will hit .400, the guys that are supposed to hit .300 will hit .300 and the guys that are supposed to hit .200 will hit .200.’”