McNeese baseball coach Justin Hill said he always looks forward to the Cowboys' annual trek to LSU's Alex Box Stadium.
"Always exciting to go to ‘The Box,' couldn't think of a better place to take a spring break trip doing something we all love," he said Monday before last-minute preparations for tonight's game against the Tigers.
But he might find things a little out of sorts over there — more like The Pox — where the New Normal has the Tigers fighting pandemic levels of Doom and Gloom.
"It's not fun to go through," LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said.
LSU is fresh off of a three-game sweep at the hands of No. 1-ranked Vanderbilt, which dropped the Tigers to 17-11 overall and man had not yet walked on the moon the last time the Tigers started SEC play 1-8, in 1969.
"When you put in a lot of work ... you want to reap the benefits of it," Mainieri said. "That's what we're used to having here at LSU. It's not easy."
"It's my job to keep their chins up, to keep them enthused and thinking positive and enjoying the game. It's hard to enjoy it when you're not having a lot of success."
Mainieri keeps waiting for the timely big hit, the one key pitch that turns things around.
He said envisioned his best hitter, Dylan Crews, getting a good pitch and hitting a 3-run homer in the ninth inning of the final game against Vanderbilt.
He thought Gavin Dugas might have it in him.
Dugas managed a
sacrifice fly but that was it as the Tigers lost 5-4 and were swept for a second consecutive SEC weekend — the first time since 2010 that's happened.
"A lot of guys have had the opportunity," Mainieri said. "You don't know when it's going to happen. You can't predict it."
McNeese (14-13, 8-7 Southland) has a two-game losing streak of its own to tend to.
The Cowboys won the first two games of last weekend's series at Southeastern but overall have dropped six of their last eight.
"Another really good in-state team," Mainieri said. "They've got a really veteran team and Justin Hill does a really good job. They always seem to play us really tough."
In fact, the Cowboys have won three of the last four against the Tigers (they didn't play last year due to the sport's shutdown).
"We need to focus on McNeese," Mainieri said. "Obviously a lot of focus is on our conference (record). We can't do anything about that Tuesday night. All we can do is play well and hopefully gain some confidence back."
LSU will start Pitkin freshman Garrett Edwards (0-2, 3.38 ERA), who may be auditioning for a weekend starting role.
Mainieri learned Monday that No. 2 starter Jaden Hill, a top pro prospect who had to leave his start early last Friday, is done for year with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.
"It's heartbreaking," Mainieri said. "Especially disappointing for Jaden as a young man who has such a bright future in baseball ... I'm confident he will overcome this setback.
Even with the injury Mainieri said on his radio show Monda night that he expects Hill will still be drafted in the first round and a Major League team will take over rehabilitation of his probable Tommy John surgery.
AJ Labas will move into the Saturday starting role with either Edwards or Will Hellmers, who'll be first out of the bullpen tonight, likely moving into the No. 3 spot.
The Tigers will use several on the mound tonight.
McNeese will take a similar pitching approach. Justin Hill hasn't announced a starter but added "We will throw quite a few guys to get ready for the weekend. It's not always ideal, but we need to find another arm or two for the stretch run."
LSU will get a lift, especially on defense, with the return of centerfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo.