Road to Omaha: Tigers headed to West Coast

Scooter Hobbs

Sunday night while watching a “heart-wrenching” Memorial Day special, LSU coach Paul Mainieri realized that whether or not he coached another baseball game wasn’t that big of a deal in the overall scheme of the universe.

But Monday morning he still woke up feeling “antsy,” wondering “if I was going to still be a coach a few hours later.”

He even talked to his team 30 minutes before the NCAA tournament selection show aired, reminding them to handle it with class, not to badmouth the process, if their name wasn’t called.

“We would have taken it like men,” Mainieri said. “We would have had nobody to blame but ourselves.”

It turns out he was fretting about nothing.

LSU’s often-frustrating season — and Mainieri’s retirement plans — got a reprieve when the Tigers were sent to Eugene, Oregon, as a No. 3 seed to face Gonzaga in the opening round of the tournament.

The Tigers (34-22) were not even listed as one of the “last four in” of the tournament.

“What the heck were we worrying about?” a relieved Mainieri yelled to his team, which erupted at a watch party.

“If I had know that, I wouldn’t have been as uptight about everything.”

The Tigers will open play Friday at 9 p.m. against No. 2 seed Gonzaga (33-17), which was under consideration to host a regional and has one of the country’s top pitchers in Alek Jacob (7-1, 2.82 ERA). Host and No. 1 seed Oregon (37-14), plays No. 4 seed Central Connecticut (28-13) in an earlier game.

An oddity: Mainieri, who is in his 39th year of coaching at four different schools, has never faced any of the other three teams in the regional.

There was plenty of late squirming at LSU’s watch party before Oregon’s regional was one of the last announced, and perhaps Mainieri wouldn’t have chosen a cross-country flight to begin the final act of his career.

Only twice before in his 15-year tenure have the Tigers played a regional outside of Baton Rouge — and the previous two trips were to Oregon State and UCLA.

“It’s a long, long flight… I feel like we’re going to Siberia,” Mainieri laughed. “They’re sending us to the other part of the world. It’s not the other part of the world. It just feels like it.

“But we’re very grateful to be in the tournament. I don’t care where we go. I told them if we get invited, we’re going to look at it as a adventure.”

His players agreed, with pitching ace Landon Marceaux adding that none of the players wanted last week’s one-anddone performance in the SEC tournament to be Mainieri’s final game.

“I said all we wanted was an opportunity and we’re going to get that opportunity,” Marceaux said. “Now we have to work and run with it.”

The Tigers were one of nine SEC schools to make the tournament, while Georgia, which sent LSU home early from the conference tournament, was one of the NCAA’s “last four out” along with Baylor, Pitt and Ball State.

Four SEC teams are among the top eight national seeds — No. 1 Arkansas, No. 3 , Tennessee, No. 4 Vanderbilt and No. 7 Mississippi State.

The winner of LSU’s regional at Oregon will be paired against the winner of the Tennessee regional for the super regional round.

Florida, Ole Miss and South Carolina are also hosting regionals, although the Gamecocks are the No. 2 seed.

The other SEC entrant, Alabama, will travel to the Ruston regional hosted by No. 1 seed Louisiana Tech.

Mainieri is just happy to be a part of it.

“We’re five wins away from going to Omaha,” Mainieri said. “And we’re not playing any teams any tougher than what we’ve been playing (in the SEC), with all due respect to Oregon and Central Connecticut and Gonzaga.

“We’re going to go up there and let it rip, play as best as we can and hopefully have success and win that thing.”

””LSU baseball

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