By Andrew Alexander
Following a successful showing in Hoover, Alabama, the LSU baseball team’s path to the College World Series got a little easier this week.
After learning they would host a regional Sunday evening, the Tigers were named a top eight national seed in the NCAA Baseball Tournament the following Monday morning. If the Tigers emerge victorious in this weekend’s Baton Rouge regional, LSU will host the winner of the Rice University regional in the Super Regionals June 6-8.
“We are happy to get the national seed,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I thought we had done enough for a host site, but you never know for sure.”
The Tigers will face fourth-seeded Southeastern Louisiana this Friday at Alex Box Stadium. The victor will face the winner of second-seeded Houston and third-seeded Bryant.
“We all thought we had it, but once they announced the number 7 [seed], my heart started racing,” LSU pitcher Aaron Nola recalled. “When we showed up on the board it was almost like all of the weight was lifted off of our shoulders. This is our third year in a row as a national seed since I have been here. Getting it definitely gives you an advantage by being able to play in your home stadium.”
The Tigers are riding an eight-game win streak that started two weeks ago with a 27-0 thrashing of Northwestern State and included a three game sweep of Auburn in the regular season finale, two 10-run rule victories in the SEC Tournament and a 2-0 victory of Florida to claim the Tigers’ 11th SEC Baseball Tournament title.
“This kind of reminds me of our 2008 team,” Mainieri explained. “We’ve made a big jump in the last couple of weeks. The guys have played such great baseball in every facet of the game. All of a sudden it seems that everyone is fitting into their role. It gives them confidence knowing when they will be used.”
Just a couple weeks ago, a cloud of skepticism hung over the Tigers’ chances of even hosting a regional, but LSU’s recent offensive explosiveness and consistently effective pitching have erased any reservations the Tigers belong among the nation’s elite college baseball clubs.
“In my opinion, there is no doubt that we deserved that national seed,” Mainieri said. “If you look at our full body of work, we were 17-11-1 in the league. When you add the four SEC tournament games, we are 21-11-1 in the toughest conference in the country. We had more overall wins and fewer losses than any other team in the league.”
Now looking forward, LSU’s postseason run begins with a familiar foe in Southeastern, who comes in as the fourth seed following a win over Central Arkansas in the Southland Conference Championship. The two in-state foes last met in February with LSU pulling out a 7-3 road win.
“We are not going to take Southeastern lightly by any means,” LSU designated hitter Sean McMullen said. “They have a very good ball club. They are coming in with a lot of momentum after winning their conference championship. I know they are going to come in here and compete. They have a lot of talent.”
McMullen’s game winning home-run in the SEC Tournament Championship game against Florida undoubtedly tipped the national seed scales in LSU’s favor this weekend.
“It was definitely a very special moment,” McMullen said. “It was almost surreal.
“I am just very proud of my teammates and all that we have been through. With 56 games it is a very long season and one of your biggest goals is to be a national seed. You can’t think about Omaha, you have to worry about what you can control. You have to put yourself in the position to get the national seed.”
Amid the celebration surrounding Monday’s announcement, Mainieri was quick to point out LSU still has a long road ahead of them before the Tigers can return to Omaha for a second straight season.
However, that does not mean he will ignore the Tigers’ recent hot streak.
“We are playing as good as anyone in the country right now,” Mainieri said. “At the same time, being awarded the national seed doesn’t matter unless you win the first weekend.”