Tigers haven’t lost since Paul Mainieri presented team the ‘big picture’
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Two weeks ago, with LSU sitting at 11-10 in league play and stuck in the middle of the Southeastern Conference standings, Paul Mainieri laid it all out in front of his team.
Specifically, what LSU would have to do in its final 12 regular season games to set itself up to host an NCAA Regional, secure a bye in the SEC Tournament and, perhaps, even play its way into the conversation for a national seed.
“I’ve done this occasionally through the years,” Mainieri said. “I’m a big take-it-one-game-at-a-time guy, as you know, and I believe that’s the only way you can do it. But there is an occasion where you have to show players the big picture so they have hope.
“You’re looking up at all these teams from a far distance away, and sometimes you need to show a little of brashness with your team as the leader.”
All the team has done since then is win its next eight games, including sweeps of Arkansas and most recently Tennessee. That completed the first couple steps Mainieri laid out.
Upon deplaning from Knoxville Sunday night, he gathered the team in the meeting room and drew the standings on a white board to illustrate his point.
“It was something new,” shortstop Kramer Robertson said of that meeting two weeks ago. “I’ve never heard him talk like that. He told us that day at practice that he thought we could win all 12 games remaining. We’ve won eight of them. I don’t know if that’s what got us going or what it was, but I think we’re playing really well and everyone has bought in.”
Currently, LSU sits in a tie for third place in the SEC West with Ole Miss — the Rebels own the tie-breaker for seeding purposes in Hoover — and are one game back of Texas A&M and Mississippi State. Over in the SEC East, Florida stands 1 ½ games ahead of LSU and South Carolina is one game behind the Gators. Here’s a link to the complete standings.
In fact, there’s even a scenario — albeit a highly unlikely one — where LSU could win a share of the SEC West. LSU would need to sweep No. 1 Florida this weekend in conjuncture with Mississippi State losing two of three to Arkansas and Ole Miss winning two of three in its series against Texas A&M.
But, before worrying about the Gators or the big picture, LSU must not refocus itself to host Northwestern State at Alex Box Stadium on Tuesday night.
The Tigers have stubbed their toes in midweek contests on more than one occasion, and while those aforementioned lofty aspirations remain in play, the last thing they’d need would be another RPI-damaging loss with hosting a regional far from guaranteed.
“Our total focus is on tomorrow because we know we can’t overlook any game,” first baseman Greg Deichmann said. “The midweeks we’ve played in earlier this season have proven that. If we come out here lackadaisical, you know they’re going to jump on us.”
It’ll be left-hander John Valek getting the start in what’ll be a ‘Senior Night’ of sorts for the former Akron product, as he likely wouldn’t pitch this weekend if he works deep into the game on Tuesday night.
“Looking back at it now, it’s crazy to think there’s only a month or two left in the season,” Valek said. “I wish I was here for my entire college career, but this year has been a blast and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The veteran southpaw served as LSU’s Sunday starter for the first 11 weekends of the season, getting off to a 6-1 start before struggling in his final two weekend outings. He returned to form Wednesday at Notre Dame, working 4.1 innings of three-hit, shutout ball.
“I don’t know where we’d be without John Valek this year,” Mainieri said.
NEWS AND NOTES
– Left-hander Jake Latz could pitch an inning in relief on Tuesday night, Mainieri strongly hinted. “One inning, if he does,” Mainieri said. “I can’t say for certain, but there’s a possibility.” The coach hadn’t yet spoken to Latz at the time, but the trainer has given him the green light to return to live action for the first time since he felt discomfort after his 1.1-inning start against McNeese State on April 12. Latz, who traveled to South Bend on his own and threw a bullpen there last week, says his arm feels better than it did before the McNeese start. “
– Third baseman O’Neal Lochridge underwent an MRI on his back last week and was slated to see the doctor Monday, Mainieri said, and the freshman’s status remains day-to-day.