Foot in the door: LSU off to UNC regional

Published 9:59 am Tuesday, May 28, 2024

A week ago LSU couldn’t be absolutely sure its Tigers would be in the NCAA baseball tournament.

But it turned out about as well as the Tigers could have imagined after a strong run to the final of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

The Tigers won’t be at home for a regional, but nobody was remotely expecting that.

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Instead they’ll be the No. 2 seed when they travel to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to start defense of last year’s national championship.

LSU (40-21) will play Wofford (41-18) the regional’s No. 3 seed, at 11 a.m. Friday.

“It’s a great opportunity for this team,” LSU head coach Jay Johnson said.

He probably wasn’t so confident a week or two ago.

In the interim the Tigers went 4-1 in the SEC Tournament with a miracle comeback against South Carolina to get the final, where another ninth-inning rally fell short in a 4-3 loss to Tennessee, the national No. 1 seed. They enter the NCAA Tournament having won seven of their last eight games.

“I think this team now has the self-discipline and the maturity to be able to take whatever the challenge is and do the things required to help us play well in postseason baseball,” Johnson said.

Wofford got its bid after coming back through the losers bracket to claim the Southern Conference Tournament championship with back-to-back wins over Samford.

The Terriers finished fifth in that conference’s regular season with a 12-8 record. LSU has never played Wofford.

Host UNC (42-13), the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champion and No. 4 national seed, is the regional’s No. 1 seed and will open against the regional’s No. 4 seed, Long Island University (33-23).

LSU has also never played LIU and has played UNC since the Tar Heels eliminated the Tigers from the 2013 College World Series.

The winner of the regional will be matched up in the super regional round against the winner of the Tucson Regional hosted by No. 13 national seed Arizona.

If LSU is to return to Omaha, Nebraska, for the CWS, that could make for an interesting pit stop for Johnson.

Should LSU get through Chapel Hill, and Arizona prevails, it would send Johnson back to his former home to play the Wildcats, who he coached before taking the LSU job following the 2021 season.

“I really haven’t looked at that,” Johnson said. “There’s so much ahead of that.”

LSU was part of a record-setting day for the SEC as league got 11 teams into the tournament. That topped the mark of 10 the league sent last year.

UNC is the bracket’s top-seeded non-SEC team. The SEC accounted for five of the top eight national seeds, including the top three in Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas A&M. Arkansas is No. 5 and Georgia No. 7.

Also in tournament, but traveling for regionals, are Mississippi State, Florida, Alabama, Vanderbilt and South Carolina.