Ross ready to lead in LSU's regional

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Ty Ross is on quite the recovery timetable, given how his month has gone.

As No. 7 LSU (43-16) gears up for the its NCAA tournament opener on Friday against Louisiana-Monroe, the Tigers' defensive lynchpin at catcher expects to start at least three, if not four or five games in the coming days. That in itself shouldn't be surprising for a mainstay with 48 starts on the season and a .305 batting average.

It's a little more impressive when one considers that just about three weeks ago, Ross underwent an emergency appendectomy during LSU's weekend series against conference foe Vanderbilt. When he woke up ahead of that weekend's Saturday game, Ross knew something was wrong.

"Breathing hurt, moving hurt, riding in a car over a bump hurt -- coughing was miserable," he said. "I just knew it wasn't right that morning, and I kind of had an idea it was appendicitis just because of where it was."

Because of his recovery period, the sophomore didn't pick up a bat until last week's SEC tournament as a pinch hitter against Mississippi State. He returned to catching the next day against Ole Miss, and as the postseason begins, Ross said he's ready to go the distance.

"As a catcher I want to be out there all the time," Ross said. "They wanted me to heal correctly and make sure I wasn't rushing back in there too quick, but everything has worked out perfectly and I feel really good."

Despite the long layover, Ross said the Tigers' doctors have been impressed with his turnaround. There weren't any complications with his surgery, and to this point the recovery has been free of speed bumps -- something Ross said should help his ability to start several games in such a short span this weekend.

"I've been doing it all season. I did take a couple of days off, but I've been running to get back in shape and I feel how I felt before," he said. "It wasn't too far off -- it wasn't like I was sitting around for a month on the couch."

With the game against the Warhawks (31-28) looming, Ross is back and healthy at just the right time for the Tigers. While LSU will no doubt be happy to have his batting prowess, Ross' presence behind the plate, where he has a fielding percentage of .995, should come in handy against a ULM squad that has stolen 76 bases this season. He should also be a guiding influence for freshman pitcher Aaron Nola's first postseason start.

"It's a first for both of us. Being that I've been here a year already, I'll be able to help him stay calm out there," Ross said.

The Tigers' reliance on Ross is almost a surreal turnaround from this time last season. The Naples, Fla., native arrived on campus last season as one of a handful of possible replacements for departed All-American Micah Gibbs. Ross won the catcher spot and started 46 games in 2011, earning Freshman All-SEC status. But he finished dead-last on the team with a .225 batting average and just 20 RBI, not to mention a .983 fielding percentage.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri credits Ross' work ethic last summer as the reason why he's gone from liability to leader as the Tigers push for a potential 16th trip to the College World Series. Mainieri said Ross upped his commitment to the cause while playing in the Cape Cod League, and it has made a world of difference.

"He changed his diet, he changed his exercising -- basically he changed his dedication level," Mainieri said. "He came back probably 30 pounds less than he was last season, and you just saw that everything he did was more athletic ... It's probably been one of the top three factors in the improvement of our team. He's become a real leader, both offensively and defensively."

Mainieri said he saw that change when the Tigers reported for the 2012 season. After recruiting Ross to LSU after he was drafted out of high school by the Philadelphia Phillies, Mainieri said he's been impressed but not surprised by his catcher's growth.

"It's not surprising at all. If they're not critical players by their sophomore year, they're probably not going to end up being critical players for you -- that's just the way college baseball is," Mainieri said. "Freshmen contribute, and sophomores better contribute ... so I'm not surprised at all. I thought he would be great, and he has fulfilled all my wishes for him."

As the Tigers prepare to finish their season, Ross said he's exactly where he envisioned himself t0 start -- albeit minus an appendix.

"Any time you feel needed and wanted by your teammates, that's a good feeling. I've worked hard back there this year, and I've wanted to be that guy. I didn't want to be the guy slowing the team down," he said.