By JAMES MORAN |Tiger Rag Associate Editor
No surprise, the road to Omaha will run through Baton Rouge once again.
The Tigers were announced as the No. 4 National Seed in the NCAA Tournament on Monday morning.
LSU is a national seed for the sixth straight season, a remarkable display of consistency in an era of parity that matched a national record held by Stanford.
There’s not a player on LSU’s roster who has had to go on the road for an NCAA Tournament game before the College World Series.
“That’s something I’m incredibly proud of,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Personally, it was a goal of mine going into the season. I wanted to see us tie that record and be a national seed.
“One thing we’ve learned about being a national seed is your chances of advancing to Omaha are greater, but there’s no guarantee you’re going to utilize it to get to Omaha.”
The other three teams bound for the Baton Rouge Regional are Southeastern Louisiana (2), Rice (3) and Texas Southern (4).
It’s a host of familiar faces for the Tigers. LSU beat both Southeastern and Rice in last year’s Baton Rouge Regional and handled the Lions, 8-2, at the Box in a midweek contest back on March 22.
“It seems like they’re here every year,” outfielder Greg Deichmann said. “We seem to know what we’re getting from them, for the most part, but our first game is Friday against Texas Southern. So we’ve got to be ready for that.”
“Same teams, but I’m sure we’re a different team and they’re a different team,” shortstop Kramer Robertson added. “Again, we don’t want to look ahead of anybody. We have to play Texas Southern. That’s who we’re focused on right now.”
There’s far less familiarity between LSU and Friday’s foe, which went just 20-32 this season but won the SWAC Tournament to earn a bid. Rice also likely wouldn’t have gotten in without winning its conference tournament.
LSU’s annual watch party within the Champions Club at Alex Box Stadium featured far less suspense than the year before. As a result, the celebration was far more subdued. Almost business like, even.
Nobody enters the NCAA Tournament hotter than LSU. The Tigers have won 11 games in a row, winning the outright Southeastern Conference, Western Division and SEC Tournament Championships along the way.
The Tigers left Hoover a virtual lock national seed, and 30 minutes prior to the selection show they were announced as one of the top-four overall.
“It was nice to know we were a national seed, unlike last year when we were waiting and not really sure what was going to happen,” catcher Mike Papierski said. “So we came in here relaxed this morning. We saw who is in our regional and now we’ve just got to take it one game at a time.”
As far as LSU’s pitching plan, Mainieri saw no reason to tip his hand as to who will start against Texas Southern. Ace Alex Lange will pitch the second game, as expected, and Eric Walker, who threw 116 pitches on Sunday, won’t be available until the weekend, he said.
“What we’ll do with the first game, I’m not 100 percent sure yet,” the coach said, “but some of the options are fairly obvious.”
The Baton Rouge Regional is paired with the Hattiesburg Regional, which included Southern Miss (1), Mississippi State (2), South Alabama (3) and Illinois-Chicago (4).
There’s a great bit of intrigue there, to be sure. Paul Mainieri advised his team prior to the selection show that they might not be done facing the SEC quite yet.
Those words proved to be prophetic, though it’s no sure thing at all that Andy Cannizaro’s Bulldogs make it out of a loaded regional. After all, South Alabama, unlike Mississippi State, did beat LSU this season.
“The super regional will be a great matchup,” Mainieri said, “but my only concern right now is to make sure LSU is part of that matchup.”