JSU coach Jim Case has tabbed Lucas as his starter in the sixth-seeded Gamecocks' OVC Tournament opener against third-seeded Morehead State Wednesday night at Brooks Stadium in Paducah, Ky.
There are a lot of factors that make the junior right-hander the right choice for the job.
He may not be the most celebrated starter on the staff, but he is the winningest (6-3, 4.43).
He threw six innings of shutout ball against the Eagles (19-30) on May 2. And, he threw only 54 pitches in his last start Friday against UT-Martin.
"Lucas is one of those who have been so important to our team this year, and one of the great things about it is when he's gone out there he's kept us in games," Case said. "Against this opponent ... he had a lot of success. He was able to shut down a very good offensive team. Hey, let's give the ball back to him."
Lucas said he was hoping he'd get the start in the tournament opener. He struggled in his last two starts and wanted a shot to make amends. After the Morehead game he was 6-1 with a 3.40 ERA, but in his last two starts he gave up five runs in 51/3 innings against Tennessee Tech and was charged with seven runs in two innings against UT-Martin.
"I think my mechanics have been a little shaky," Lucas said. "When I think back on (the Morehead game), I felt really good that day. The ball was coming out good ... the hitters were hitting it well ... I had a lot of help behind me. It's easier to pitch when you have a cushion.
"Coming off the last two weeks, this is very big. It's kind of like the tone-setter, to let everybody know we're here, we're ready to play. It's a pretty big game. I'm just going into it looking at a clean slate. Everything that happened in the year doesn't really matter anymore. I want to come out early and throw up a couple zeroes and let the hitters do what they do."
Freshman Daniel Watts (4-5, 5.63) is expected to start in JSU's second game, with junior ace Ben Tootle (3-4, 4.06) going in the third. A win over Morehead, would send the Gamecocks (28-24) to face top-seeded Eastern Illinois Thursday at 6:30 p.m. A loss would pit them against the Southeast Missouri-Tennessee Tech loser at 11 a.m.
The Gamecocks take an eight-game losing streak into the tournament, their longest slide since 2001. They were swept in their last two OVC series. They split with Morehead State, but were in danger of losing the rubber game when thunderstorms and tornado warnings washed it out before becoming an official game.
A year ago, they entered the tournament on a 16-game winning streak, which they extended in the first game before losing the next two, failing to reach the championship round for the first time since joining the league.