By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
After seven consecutive roads games — the final four coming in two cities over the span of five days — LSU coach Paul Mainieri admits it was nice to get a little bit of a break.
The Tigers are in the midst of a mini-respite as all LSU students go through final exam week for the spring semester. Mainieri characterized the rare midweek off as a nice rest after LSU grinded out a 4-3 road trip.
“I think this break came at a good time,” Mainieri said Monday. “We’re tired. Especially after seven straight games away from the Box. There last games at Alabama were very tiring. They were tough.”
LSU (30-15, 13-8 SEC) returns to action Friday night to begin a three-game series against South Carolina (25-17, 10-11 SEC). The Tigers, who haven’t played at home since April 18, will play their next eight in the friendly confines of Alex Box Stadium.
In the interim Mainieri has organized small group practices based around players’ exam schedules. Thursday will be the first time more than a handful of the team practice together since they returned from Tuscaloosa, and they’ll still be within a number of veterans taking Thursday afternoon exams.
And once this physical respite is over, LSU finds itself in a mad sprint through the final three weekends of the 30-game conference season.
The Tigers are one of seven clubs within a game of the outright SEC lead with nine games left to play. Kentucky, Auburn and Mississippi State share the lead at 14-7 at the moment, and LSU will play series against the last two to close out the regular season.
Mainieri has spent 35 years coaching baseball, more than a decade of which has come in the SEC, but remembered only 2011 as a season when the league standards are so bunched up at the top this late into the campaign.
“It’s crazy,” Mainieri said, “but I’m not surprised. I’ve been saying this to you all year: everybody seems about the same. Some teams might have a strength that’s a little bit better than another team, but everybody has their limitations. Everybody has their area of concern.”
The good news: despite some rough stretches and inconsistencies, all of LSU’s goals remain on the table as the calendar turns to May.
The Tigers are ranked within the top 15 in all four of the major polls. LSU is presently No. 15 in RPI. According to a projection from D1Baseball.com, LSU would host an NCAA Regional paired with No. 8 national seed TCU if the season ended today.
LSU won eight of its final nine SEC games during a torrid finish last season en route to a national seed. Should LSU find a way to leapfrog Auburn and Mississippi State atop the SEC West, followed by a strong showing in Hoover, a sixth straight national seed wouldn’t be out of the question.