Rhymes a bargain for LSU

As far as bang for your buck, Raph Rhymes has to be the best deal in college baseball.

He is the best player in the mighty Southeastern Conference, at least in the eyes of the league's coaches who named him SEC Player of the Year on Tuesday.

He's also the nation's leading hitter, at .459, 29 points better than the second-best hitter.

And what does this cost LSU?

This season, nothing.

After his junior season in 2011, when the Monroe, La., native hit .360 and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th round of the June draft, Rhymes opted to not only turn down the pro chance, but also to give back the scholarship money from LSU for his senior season to allow LSU coach Paul Mainieri to use the scholarship to bring in another player.

He told LSU coach Paul Mainieri about the scholarship idea during his exit interview at the end of the season, which was also the day Rhymes was drafted.

"He said, 'First of all there is no chance of me signing professionally. I've been waiting my whole life to come to LSU and I'm not giving it up that quickly. I'm going to be back for next year.' And I said 'OK, that's great,' " Mainieri recalled of the conversation.

But Rhymes wasn't finished. As Mainieri recalled it, adding, " 'But I want to ask you something, would it be OK for me to talk to my parents about this and voluntarily give up my scholarship? Would it help our team? Would you be able to go out and get another player to make us stronger?'

"I was just stunned. I literally had tears in my eyes."

Mainieri declined to say how Rhymes' scholarship money was redeployed, but Rhymes' decisions that day certainly have made a difference for LSU, which went from missing both the SEC and NCAA tournament last season to winning the SEC and being a No. 7 national seed this year.

Not only does LSU have a stronger roster than a year ago, but Rhymes returned to hit almost 100 points better than he did in what was already a pretty good junior season.

"I told him it was about the greatest thing a player has ever done for a team that I've coached," Mainieri said.

Stay out of the heat: LSU will play Rhymes' hometown school, Louisiana-Monroe, at 7 p.m. CT Friday. But for a brief time on Monday, when the NCAA tournament pairings were announced, the time was sent out as the 2 p.m. game.

Mainieri opted to go the other direction.

"I wanted to do it for the fans," he said.

Since the NCAA went to the four-team regional format, a hosting LSU team has usually chosen to play the Friday day game, giving it maximum rest before Saturday's round. The trade off was perhaps a smaller crowd and early summer heat.

Louisiana has already hit its sultry summertime pattern, with temperatures climbing into the 90s during the heat of the day and heat indexes nearing triple digits with Baton Rouge's oppressive humidity.

Playing at night will not only keep LSU fans from having to play hooky on a work day, it gets them out of the heat.

The losers in Manieri's decision? Oregon State and Belmont, who will toil in the Friday afternoon heat. While it will reach 90 degrees in Baton Rouge Friday, it will drop to a chilly 42 degrees Friday night in Corvallis. Saturday's high in Corvallis is in the mid-60s, but in Baton Rouge, it will be in the low-90s.