By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Whether addressing his team or the media, LSU coach Paul Mainieri often likes to cite experiences from his coaching career to better illustrate a point.
His favorite go-to example, as one might expect, is anything to do with the 2009 National Championship season.
The coach called back to that title run again during a team meeting Tuesday to a group of players that begin the NCAA Tournament Friday riding an 11-game winning streak, second-longest in the country behind on No. 1 overall seed Orgeron State.
His message: Not even a championship team can afford to overlook the automatic qualifier from the Southwest Athletic Conference. LSU opened the 2009 Baton Rouge Regional with Southern and found itself trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning before the bats came alive to prevail in blowout fashion.
The Tigers don’t plan to let history repeat itself when it opens up the Baton Rouge Regional against SWC Tournament champion Texas Southern at, weather permitting, 2:30 p.m. Friday. LSU says it’s not looking past a club that has the lowest RPI (266) of any of the 64 clubs in the field.
“There’s more teams in the field that’re capable of beating anybody,” the coach said. “Just look at the teams that aren’t even in the tournament. Traditional powers like Arizona State, Miami and South Carolina. There’s a lot of great teams sitting at home … The balance across the country now is amazing.”
Nothing should be taken for granted. Fortunately for Mainieri, that message is more easily received by a veteran club that’s been through the pressure cooker of the NCAA Tournament before.
“Both years I’ve been the NCAA Tournament we’ve been upset; by Houston in 2014 and then obviously Coastal Carolina,” shortstop Kramer Robertson said. “By no means does being a national seed and looking at who you’ve got in a regional or super regional guarantee you anything.
“You’ve got to go out there and earn it, but I like our chances.”
This is LSU’s sixth straight season as a national seed, but the Tigers have advanced to the College World Series only twice in the previous five seasons. To underscore that point, consider that only two of the eight national seeds made it to Omaha last season.
That’s not to say playing at home doesn’t have its advantages.
Every team wants to be a national seed and would grab the opportunity if it’s presented. Starting last season, the NCAA implemented a rule that the national seed is always the home team if there’s a game three in a super regional.
Some of those advantages loom even larger when rain is in the forecast, as it is this weekend.
For one, Mainieri again elected to play the early game Friday, effectively avoiding any chance of the nightmare scenario in this round: losing a late game Friday night and having to play an early elimination game Sunday afternoon.
“One year when I was at Notre Dame, I felt like we lost a tournament because we didn’t play the first game,” Mainieri said. “The team that won the tournament played first and our game got rained out that first night … It pushed the tournament an extra day and the kid that pitched the first game for them came back and beat us in the championship game on two-day’s rest.
“Since then, if we’ve had a choice, I’ve said let’s play the first game. That way, if a game gets cancelled, it won’t be us.”
In the event of a weather stoppage this weekend, LSU is in its own building. Players and coaches can relax in their own clubhouse and wait out the storm. If a game is washed out entirely, they get to go home instead of to a hotel.
Weather has already impacted LSU’s preparations. The Tigers were forced inside by heavy rains Tuesday and Mainieri told the players to be on standby Wednesday for a short-notice outdoor practice if the weather broke.
Rain pushed the 2016 Baton Rouge Regional into Tuesday, washing out a full day in the process. Between that and the annual delay-a-thon that is the SEC Tournament, LSU’s veterans are plenty used to dealing with the uncertainty that comes with inclement weather.
According to the latest forecast from WAFB, tweeted by Steve Caparotta Wednesday afternoon, there’s a 50 percent chance of rain Friday and a 70 percent chance throughout the weekend.
“It’s not looking too good this week,” lefty Jared Poche’ said. “But hopefully the field drains and we can get on the field a couple times to get our work in for Friday.”
-Designated hitter Bryce Jordan has been ruled out for the remainder of the season, Mainieri said Monday. Jordan, recovering from knee surgery, took batting practice earlier this month, but LSU opted to shut him down once he began feeling tightness in his hamstring. He’ll return next season with two years of eligibility remaining.
-Right fielder Greg Deichmann was named one of 25 finalists for the Golden Spikes Award Wednesday. He’s one of four semifinalists from the SEC, joined by Mississippi State’s Brent Rooker, Florida’s Alex Faedo and Kentucky’s Evan White.