LSU coach Paul Mainieri. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Sunday, June 16, 2013 11:13 AM
OMAHA, Neb. — Yes, the same LSU team that won a super regional will finally take the field in the College World Series tonight.
It only seems as if, since sweeping Oklahoma to clinch their berth here last Saturday, there’s been enough time for most of them to move on into post-collegiate pursuits.
“It feels like forever,” said LSU first baseman Mason Katz as the No. 4 seed Tigers went through a final practice before taking the field at 7 p.m. today against UCLA, the last of the CWS’s four first-round games.
“This week has gone by slow, so slow it’s unbelievable,” Katz continued. “We’ve been waiting for it to get to Sunday for so long.
“We thought we were waiting for Saturday.”
The NCAA’s original plan was for the Tigers’ side of the bracket, which includes No. 1 seed North Carolina and North Carolina State, who will play today’s 2 p.m. game, to open on Saturday.
But constant rain delays with North Carolina’s super regional — it wasn’t decided until Tuesday — prompted the switch of the bracket’s start time.
“That just made it worse,” Katz said.
The well-rested Tigers (57-9) won’t be able to use idle hands as an excuse. UCLA (44-17) clinched its spot the same night as LSU and has been biding its time.
But the Tigers had already waited three years to get back to Omaha since winning the last of their six national championships in 2009.
None of the current Tigers, however, has ever played in the CWS, and no Tigers team has ever played in the event’s 3-year-old home in downtown TD Ameritrade Park.
Tonight’s winner advances with a chance to take control of the bracket with a Tuesday night game against the winner of Sunday’s first game. The two losers will face an elimination game Tuesday afternoon.
UCLA has far less history, but is making its third trip in the last four years under coach John Savage.
“We may not have been here,” Katz said. “But being LSU, we expect to be here. We’re not just happy to be here, I know that.
“We treat it like a business trip.”
The Tigers can pick up just about where they left off in Baton Rouge more than a week ago — a much anticipated pitching duel between their All-American right-hander Aaron Nola (12-0, 1.68 ERA) and UCLA ace Adam Putko (8-3, 2.35).
“It should be a fun game like last week,” said Nola, who outdueled Oklahoma first-round draft pick Jonathan Gray in the super regional opener against Oklahoma. “A game like this, you know there aren’t going to be a lot of runs scored. You just have to compete and battle to the end.
“When I do that I know my offense is going to come through in the end and my defense is going to play behind me.”
On paper, the offenses look like a mismatch, with UCLA’s .251 team batting average the lowest among the eight teams in Omaha, while LSU is a healthy .308.
“You can kind of throw stats out the window when you get here,” Nola said.
Or call them misleading, as his coach Paul Mainieri did.
“Their stats don’t jump out at you,” Mainieri said. “But they’re all tough outs and they know how to manufacture runs.
“Their team is built on pitching and defense and getting a few runs. They know they don’t need a lot of runs.”
So, a classic SEC (bashers) vs. Pac-12 (small ball) affair?
“In the old days, the SEC style compared to the California style like apples and oranges,” Mainieri said. “But since the change of the bats, the limitations, this (big) stadium … I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.
“We played a lot of teams like this. Arkansas reminds me a lot of UCLA. Oklahoma, who we played last week, reminds of UCLA.
“I just want the guys to use their instincts, play the game and do what comes natural and I think we’ll be OK.”
“We can play a little bit of both,” Katz said. “We just have to play our game, just score more runs than they do.”
Mainly, it will be good just to get on the field.
“I’m just happy it’s almost here and we can finally play,” Katz said.