Vol’s send Mainieri into retirement

Scooter Hobbs

Maybe it wasn’t the kind of retirement party LSU’s Paul Mainieri was hoping for.

But he certainly had plenty of time to reflect on 39 years of coaching over the final innings of his final game, a lopsided 15-6 loss to Tennessee in the NCAA tournament’s super regionals.

There wasn’t much a coach could do at that point and he was noticeably emotional and choked up from his familiar perch on the dugout steps as his career ­­— the last 15 years at LSU — wound down toward the inevitable Tennessee dog pile.

He was, he said later, thinking about his late father, Demie, a fellow college Hall of Fame coach who put a baseball uniform on Paul when he was just 4 years old and was always a sounding board through all the highs and lows.

But he got emotional again in his postgame press conference.

“I don’t want people to be sad for me,” he said, fighting back tears. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world. Got to live out a childhood dream. These are not tears of being upset, they’re tears of happiness.”

Not about the final game, certainly, which quickly evolved into home run derby with Tennessee hitting six bombs and the Tigers four, all of LSU’s by freshmen.

“It just wasn’t our day today,” Mainieri said.

It was close until Mainieri had to go to the bullpen earlier than expected with ace Landon Marceaux struggling.

Marceaux got through three innings with LSU trailing just 3-2 after giving up a pair of home runs, both to Jake Rucker.

In retrospect that wasn’t bad considering Lindsey Nelson Stadium was turning into a launching pad — it was 3-2 because LSU’s Dylan Crews hit solo home runs in the first and third innings.

“We thought we’d just piece it together,” Mainieri said.

Not exactly.

The first three out of the bullpen — Garrett Edwards (who aggravated a sore forearm muscle), Will Hellmers and Trent Vietmeier — conspired to pitch just 1 1/3 innings ­while allowing eight runs on six hits, three of them home runs.

The Vols put the game away with six runs in the fifth that included two home runs.

“Things just kind of unraveled there,” Mainieri said.

But he had no regrets about the quick hook with Marceaux.

“I could tell pretty quickly  that Landon didn’t have his normal stuff,” Mainieri said. “It looked like he was out of gas right from the beginning.

“I thought he threw a pretty good pitch to Rucker and Rucker went down and got the slider  and hit it out of the ball park. Obviously, it didn’t have the kind of bite it normally does and the velocity was down.

“I couldn’t in good conscience  let him continue. He was really laboring. Everything he’s given to this program, and he’s a got a (pro) future ahead of him … I just couldn’t keep running him out here.”

So LSU finishes the season 38-25 while, Tennessee (50-16) will make its fifth trip to the College World Series and the first since 2005.

The Tigers threw in three errors and pitchers hit five batters to add to the Big Orange merriment in a festive atmosphere.

“They have an outstanding ball club and clearly deserve the  opportunity that they’re going to have,” Mainieri said. “I wish them well.

“They hit the ball better than we did today. They pretty much did everything better than we did.”

Tre’ Morgan and Brody Drost hit home runs in addition to the pair by Crews.

””

LSU head coach Paul Mainieri tips his cap to fans before the start of the Tigers’ 15-6 loss to Tennessee in the Knoxville Super Regional Sunday. The loss ended Mainieri’s Hall of Fame career.

Gus Stark / Special to the American Press

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