The LSU baseball team mindset for the Southeastern Conference tournament is simple because it mirrors the reality of its situation.
“We’re going to play every game like it’s our last,” Tigers’ freshman first baseman Tre’ Morgan said, “because it very well could be our last.”
No. 9 seed LSU (34-21, 13-17), with possibly some more wins to grab to clinch an NCAA tournament bid, opens league tourney play vs. No. 8 seed Georgia (30-23, 13-17) at 4:30 p.m. in Tuesday’s single-game elimination round at the Hoover (Ala.) Metropolitan Stadium.
The game will be televised on the SEC Network. If LSU wins, it will play league regular season champ Arkansas at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
As recently as last Friday when the Tigers trailed at Texas A&M in game two of their series after the Aggies won the opener, even qualifying for the 12-team SEC tourney was in doubt.
But then, seven LSU pitchers allowed just two runs in the last 20.2 innings of the series and an offensive burst of 12 runs on 13 hits in five innings linking the end of a second game comeback victory and the start of a runaway series-clinching game three win enabled the Tigers to fight another day.
After a 1-8 SEC start against then-No. 2 ranked Mississippi State, then-No. 9 Tennessee and then-No. 2, LSU has won five of its last seven SEC series, including the last three consecutive over Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M.
“When you’re 1-8,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, “you say (to your players) `You’ve got two choices. You can lay there and give up, or get up on your feet, come back fighting and things will eventually turn for us.’
“And they did. We’re on an upswing. It’s not too late.”
Something that helped the Tigers flip the season was their SEC schedule lightening a bit while their freshman and sophomore-dominated lineup that had no previous experience running the SEC gauntlet raised their level of play.
But there were plenty of painful lessons along the way.
“The regular season is such a grind, especially in this league,” Mainieri said. “The difference between having a good season and below average season is so miniscule.
“We’ve lost seven one-run games and two two-run games. That’s nine games by whiskers. If we just turned around half of those, the season would have a different feel to it.”
Mainieri is hoping his team is its traditional comfort zone – the SEC tournament – in which he has a 38-10 record and the Tigers have won six of the past 12 tourney titles (2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2017). LSU has reached at least the semifinal round in seven straight SEC tournaments (2013-19).
“Now we’ve gotten through the regular season,” Mainieri said, “typically a relaxation comes over the players and they play their best baseball in the postseason.
“I just told them, “This is the fun time, the fun part of the season. You go out there and let it rip.’ ”
LSU will start staff ace Landon Marceaux on the mound vs. Georgia. The junior right-hander is No. 3 in the SEC in ERA (2.04), No. 2 in the league in innings pitched and No. 8 in strikeouts (98).
In eight of his 10 SEC starts this season the Tigers have scored two runs or less when he’s on the mound including no runs three times and one run three times.
In his last outing in last Thursday’s 2-1 series-opening loss at Texas A&M, Marceaux was uncharacteristically removed from the game after giving up one run and three hits in the first four innings. But he had also struck out only one batter, walked three and had thrown 60 pitches.
At the end of fourth when Mainieri felt Marceaux was struggling, he asked him how he physically felt. When Marceaux responded he wasn’t feeling well and felt fatigued, Mainieri removed him.
But now, Marceaux said he’s 100 percent and eager to pitch the tourney opener.
“I really didn’t feel well,” Marceaux said. “I got an I.V. and that was about it. It took care of that. I’m ready to go.”
Marceaux was one of four Tigers’ receiving All-SEC recognition Monday from the league coaches.
He was named second-team All-SEC along with Morgan and freshman right fielder Dylan Crews. Morgan, Crews and shortstop Jordan Thompson were on the All-SEC Freshman team.
Finally, Morgan earned a spot on the league’s All-Defensive team.
Morgan appreciated the honors, but feels he and the rest of the team’s young guns now have enough seasoning.
“At this point in the season, that `freshman’ excuse or that `young team’ excuse isn’t going to work,” Morgan said “We have to go out there and play like we’ve played a full season of college baseball.”
Tuesday’s game is the first LSU-Georgia matchup in the SEC tournament since 2009 when the Tigers won twice over the Bulldogs. LSU is 9-2 all-time versus Georgia in SEC tournament games.
The Tigers didn’t play the Bulldogs this past regular season when Georgia finished fifth in SEC East.
Georgia is hitting .275 (ninth in the SEC) and its pitching staff is fifth in the league in ERA at 3.87 while limiting opponents to a .226 batting average.
The Bulldogs are led by infielders Josh McAllister (.352 with six doubles, one triple, nine homers, 29 RBIs) and Connor Tate (344 with six doubles, one triple, 10 homers, 33 RBIs) and catcher Corey Collins (team-highs of 13 doubles and 35 RBIs).
LSU needs to bring back gorilla ball