After watching the LSU basketball team get completely crushed by Kentucky on Saturday, it was great to see the baseball team sweep a double-header (and the series) against Fordham later that day and move to 9-2 on the season. The highlight of the day was definitely the huge comeback in the night game, as the Tigers trailed 7-3 in the seventh, before putting up seven runs in the inning to win 10-7. But lost in the excitement was another solid start from newcomer John Valek III in the afternoon contest, helping the Tigers cruise to a 15-1 victory.
Valek is now 3-0 and was honored by the Louisiana Sportswriters Association as its February Pitcher of the Month. While his three wins have come against non-conference opponents, and SEC competition will be tougher, fans have to be excited about what Valek brings to the team as the third starter.
Playing his first three seasons at Akron University, Valek was immediately eligible to pitch for LSU in 2016 after Akron's program was shut down. Many teams around the country would've loved to grab another team's ace, especially one with three years, 42 starts, and nearly 300 innings of experience. Yet here he is, pitching for LSU and looking like someone who could make a huge difference each weekend in SEC play.
The most encouraging statistic that Valek has posted so far is his one walk (and 16 strikeouts) through 17+ innings. Friday starter Jared Poche has walked eight but has maintained an excellent ERA of 0.92, while ace Alex Lange has uncharacteristically allowed nine free passes and posted a 4.15 ERA so far. I think we all expect Lange to bounce back very soon, and now having Valek throwing behind him is yet another weapon, particularly if he remains this consistent in the strike zone.
LSU's offense will put up runs, we hope, and the defense is coming together nicely, considering Jake Fraley was the team's only returning starter. A team with a good offense and a solid defense can only benefit from a pitcher who doesn't allow walks.
At GBS, we've always been curious about colleges shutting down their baseball programs, most notably when we semi-adopted the Vermont Catamounts during their final season in 2009. It's a disturbing trend over the last decade, as fans increasingly support football and largely ignore school baseball programs. However, this is the first time that one of the teams we follow has been directly impacted by a program's being discontinued.
I'm looking forward to watching Valek finish out his college career in a Tigers uniform, hopefully contributing to another LSU College World Series run in the process.