With options at every position, it’s difficult to earn playing time for No. 8 LSU. Two players—senior infielder Chris Reid and freshman infielder CJ Willis—had breakout performances to earn their spots.
When the season started, then-No. 1 LSU had options in the bullpen, but third base seemed thin until Reid returned to the team. With Reid back on the team, it gave the Tigers a solid defensive player and a consistent bat in the lineup.
“He’s so unique,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “There’s not many guys like him that could step in and do what he’s doing. But I knew he could. That’s why I didn’t hesitate to bring him back.”
Sophomore infielder Hal Hughes began the season at third base as Reid had only returned to the team a few weeks before the season started. It didn’t take long for Reid to have an impact off the bench.
It took 11 games for Reid to earn the starting spot after a tough trip to then-No. 22 Texas. During the first 11 games of the season, Reid was hitting .357 with five RBI’s. Since taking over the starting job, Reid has delivered in clutch situations and played solid defense.
On the season Reid’s average hasn’t dipped much. He is hitting .325 with 22 RBI’s through 29 games. Reid has started 21 games, this season—one more game than the previous two seasons combined.
After taking over the starting role, Reid came off the bench against Nicholls because of an arm injury. The injury didn’t stop Reid from pinch hitting and tying the game in the ninth on his first swing of the week.
“I shutter at the thought of where we would be without Chris Reid playing like he’s playing for our team,” Mainieri said.
The depth of the roster extends beyond Reid. Before the season, there was a battle for first base between four freshmen. Willis didn’t earn the starting job and didn’t receive many opportunities throughout the first two months of the season.
Mainieri said Willis showed up to LSU after having surgery and was “half a player” until the start of the spring. Willis’ batting practice improved, and Mainieri took notice, but it wasn’t until the Tigers’ trip to Starkville when Willis had a meaningful pinch hit opportunity against then-No. 2 Mississippi State.
With eight at bats on the season, Willis made the most of his opportunity. The left-handed batter drove a linedrive to the opposite field an drove in a run.
That at bat earned Willis a start in the Sunday game and more playing time. In the three games against Mississippi State, Willis went 3-for-6 with four RBI’s. Willis’ mindset didn’t change even though he had a strong weekend and earned starting time.
“I pretty much stay the same person, nothing really changes,” Willis said. “Still cheer on your teammates no matter what’s going on. Still be a team
player and then when you get in the game, do your job and just help out in every aspect you can.”
With Reid and Willis emerging from the bench, it leaves the question as to who else could step up in clutch spots. The talent extends throughout
the roster. Who is next depends on who will rise to the occasion like Reid and Willis did with their opportunities.