Paul Mainieri is a coach who leaves no stone unturned and no scenario unprepared for.
LSU had a meeting Wednesday during which Mainieri schooled his team on the finer points on packing for a weekend away from home. Mainieri asked his team Thursday if anybody was afraid of flying before LSU (15-7, 2-1 SEC) shipped off to Nashville for a three-game series against Vanderbilt (15-6, 3-0 SEC).
“Follow the itinerary,” LSU outfielder Beau Jordan said. “Coach literally maps it out for us what we need to do, and when we get to the field, it’s a business trip.”
This will be the first taste of playing on the road in the SEC for a number of LSU’s key players, including Sunday starter Ma’Khail Hilliard, catcher Hunter Feduccia, outfielder Daniel Cabrera and freshmen arms Devin Fontenot, AJ Labas and Nick Storz.
There’s some things that can’t be prepared for, but as Mainieri notes, LSU was exposed to hostile crowds and artificial turf fields — two things they’ll encounter in Nashville — in contentious road losses at UL-Lafayette and Southeastern earlier this season.
“Both of those environments are very similar to what we’ll find at Vanderbilt,” Mainieri said. “Listen, playing at home is a wonderful thing and we love doing it, but when you’re playing in front of 10 or 12,000 people, even though they’re rooting for you, there’s still a lot of pressure. So I think that will prepare them for going on the road as well. There has to be a first time for everything.”
LSU has been one of the nation’s most successful programs when it comes to playing on the road, but Hawkins Field hasn’t exactly been kind to the Tigers. LSU hasn’t won a road series at Vanderbilt since 2005.
That stat can be a bit misleading. Due to SEC scheduling, LSU has only played at Vanderbilt three times during Mainieri’s tenure, most recently in 2014, which means nobody on the current roster has played there. Two of those years were 2007 and 2011, the only seasons in which LSU didn’t make the NCAA Tournament under Mainieri.
“The years we went there and got swept were probably the two weakest teams we’ve had here at LSU,” the coach said. “It also coincided with them having David Price and other great pitchers. So sometimes those things seem a bit more skewed than they should be. With that said, Vanderbilt still has a really good ball club.
“This is why you come to LSU. To play in big series against great teams, and if you’re afraid of it, you came to the wrong school.”
LSU – So. RHP Zack Hess (3-2, 5.08 ERA, 28.1 IP, 14 BB, 42 SO)
VU – So. RHP Drake Fellows (3-0, 1.91 ERA, 28.1 IP, 12 BB, 36 SO)
LSU – Jr. RHP Caleb Gilbert (2-1, 4.21 ERA, 25.2 IP, 6 BB 15 SO)
VU – Jr. RHP Patrick Raby (2-2, 1.45 ERA, 18.2 IP, 9 BB, 22 SO)
LSU – Fr. RHP Ma’Khail Hilliard (5-0, 0.77 ERA, 23.1 IP, 8 BB, 20 SO)
VU – TBA
Friday, March 23 – 8 p.m. CT
Saturday, March 24 – 7:30 p.m. CT
Sunday, March 25 – 12 p.m. CT
Hawkins Field in Nashville, Tenn.
LSU – No. 15 by Collegiate Baseball; No. 18 by Baseball America
VU – No. 5 by Collegiate Baseball; No. 9 by Baseball America
LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates, including WDGL 98.1 FM in Baton Rouge
Friday – ESPNU
Saturday – ESPNU
Sunday – ESPN2
The games may be viewed on SEC Network+, accessible at WatchESPN.com and the Watch ESPN app
LSU has a 57-41 edge over Vanderbilt, and Friday’s game will mark the 99th meeting between the schools in a series that began in 1954. The teams are meeting for the first time since April 7-9, 2016, in Baton Rouge, when LSU won two of three games over the Commodores. Vanderbilt has won six of the past seven regular-season series between the schools; however, LSU has captured five of its last six SEC Tournament games against Vanderbilt. LSU is seeking its first series victory in Nashville since 2005, when the Tigers won two of three games over the Commodores.