There are moments in every athlete’s life when he or she knows the spotlight is going to be bright, the glare plenty hot.
Stepping into that heat is a conscious effort that will require every ounce of whatever the athlete can muster – the demand to bring the best he or she has to the table.
Before the best-of-three Super Regional at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium between the Tigers and Stony Brook began, Ryan Eades talked quietly and confidently about being ready for game three if it happened to roll around.
Well, now, after the teams split the first two games, Game 3 is here and Eades gets that chance that most athletes live for.
“I’m sure Ryan wants to pitch and this is why he came here,” LSU first baseman/outfielder Mason Katz said. “He wants the opportunity to carry us there and now he gets it.”
There’s no need to rehash the fact that Eades has struggled the last two months of the season.
At some point, whatever the reason, the hard-throwing right-hander went from a rock-solid No. 2 starter who at times was every bit as dominant as Kevin Gausman to a grinder who has had to labor through even his best starts lately.
The stuff is still good in snapshots. Eades’ velocity has continued to be in the low to mid 90 mph range at times, the breaking ball still snaps off once in a while and his changeup is still capable of freezing hitters and making his fastball much more effective.
The problem is, Eades spends most of his time with only one or two pitches he can rely on and seems to be plugging holes in the damn more than settling into a groove.
Easy innings have evaded Eades for the most part.
Since he got Alabama 1-2-3 four times in eight innings started on April 14, Eades has recorded only four up-and-down frames in the last 38.
“We know what level of pitcher he is, but he just has to put it all together,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said.
That’s a wait that has gone on since that win against the Crimson Tide, though.
For a while, Eades seemed to have lost some confidence, especially when he had two strikes on a batter as his strikeout total per nine inning plummeted. Later it was a matter of falling behind hitters and painting himself into a corner to where he had to come at hitters with fastballs instead of daring them to hit pitches he wanted to throw, pitches with some wrinkles to them.
Those problems have been fixed at times, but inconsistency has still plagued him.
What Eades has done to compensate for his struggles is show a tenacious ability to grind out innings. Until he allowed four runs in 5.2 innings against Oregon State last Sunday, Eades was on a streak of three starts when he gave up only four runs over 16 innings.
|Katz: 'I’m sure Ryan wants to pitch and this is why he came here. He wants the opportunity to carry us there and now he gets it.'|
Mainieri and Eades’ teammates are counting on that kind of bulldog mentality against the potent Stony Brook bats, which have produced 20 hits in 20 innings so far, including three home runs.
After all, to be a pitcher at LSU means these are exactly the moments in time you live for.
“I think he understands the significance of what’s going on (Sunday),” Mainieri said.
“This is why you come to LSU, to pitch in games like this. If you’re afraid, you came to the wrong school. One thing I know is that he’s going to go out and pitch his heart out.”
That’s something the Tigers will need from everybody in a gold jersey on Sunday.
LSU’s offense has managed only 12 hits in the two games and is 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
“We need to be better in every aspect of our offense,” Katz said.
There certainly won’t be a lack of confidence. Not from a team that has won 47 games, claimed the SEC regular-season championship and is 17-8 in one-run games this season.
Living on the edge has become a way of life for the Tigers in 2012, and Eades typifies that as much as anybody.
No better time than now for him to rediscover himself and shine when his team needs him the most – with a trip to the College World Series on the line.
“Our team’s going to go out there confident (Sunday),” Mainieri said. “We’re playing in our stadium, we’ll be back in our dugout, we’ll get to bat in the ninth inning, and it’s not going to be easy for the other team to stop us at the end.
“And Ryan’s got to lead the way. He’s got to give us a chance to win.”
Once more for a trip to Omaha
Bittersweet end at Alex Box Stadium
NOTES: Bizarre plays on the base paths
Super Regional update
Super Regional update