By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – There may be many Ole Miss fans at Swayze Field on Thursday night who wouldn’t immediately get the meaning of “lagniappe.”
That’s not true for the Rebels’ Louisiana-heavy pitching rotation as No. 12 LSU visits No. 13 Ole Miss this week.
Born and bred across the border, Christian Trent and Sam Smith have both provided the “something extra” that defines lagniappe, and they’ve done it in different ways.
Trent has immediately excelled as an SEC starter, as Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco has had to replace two underclassman draft picks – Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers – from the 2013 roster.
Smith has grown into a solid third starter in conference games, a luxury not seen on many SEC teams.
“Sometimes (Sam) gets overlooked, pitching on Sundays, but he’s still one of the best pitchers in this conference and in the country,” Ole Miss catcher Will Allen said.
Smith pitched into the seventh at Mississippi State on Sunday and left with a 10-0 lead. Two runs were later charged to his line in the Rebels’ 12-2 win.
A Lake Charles, La., native, Smith, a right-hander, wasn’t recruited by LSU. When he arrived at Ole Miss for the 2012 season Bianco described him early on as the most “game ready” of the freshmen. He went on to make 13 appearances, nine of them starts.
He’s currently sporting the best earned run average his career at 2.30 over 54.2 innings. Smith doesn’t “wow” you with strikeout numbers but keeps walks to a minimum and relies on his defense.
“I think I’ve grown in a lot of ways from a maturity standpoint. I think my stuff’s gotten a little better every year,” he said. “I’m throwing a little harder than I was when I first got here.”
A different path
It’s been a different path for Trent. A left-hander from Madisonville, La., across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, he was recruited by LSU and became a part of the Tigers’ program. At the end of his first semester, however, he gained a strong sense that he could maximize his opportunity someplace else after LSU coach Paul Maineri discussed the future with him.
“He just told me I was going to be a redshirt. From that point on I wasn’t going to play a huge role there. At the time I was like a lefty-lefty matchup guy. I wasn’t using my potential to the fullest,” Trent said. “We kind of just parted ways. It just didn’t work out.”
After a junior college season that included six complete games – two of them shutouts – Trent has been an eager and successful answer to Bianco’s help wanted ad.
He posted his first college complete game with a 6-0 shutout of Auburn on April 5. He has flooded the zone with strikes and allowed only eight walks while striking out 49 in 59 innings.
Back in fall ball, Allen didn’t predict such quick success for Trent.
“I knew he was going to be a great pitcher for us. I didn’t know he was going to be pitching on the weekends and doing as good as he’s been doing. He just gets after it,” Allen said.
Trent downplays the significance of his LSU time and the Tigers’ visit and expects to get after it like it was any other weekend.
Smith admits to being a little more amped up against his home-state school, which is also Bianco’s alma mater.
“Being a Louisiana guy, I’m always looking forward to playing LSU. I have my parents coming up, and a lot of friends are going to be here. I’m really excited,” he said.