Mainieri math shows LSU has reason to play

Scooter Hobbs

Heading into the home stretch, so to speak, that’s quite a race they’ve got going atop the SEC baseball standings.

Not that LSU is a part of it, of course.

But with nine games in three regular season series remaining, Arkansas leads it at 15-6, with three teams — Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Tennessee — one game back at 14-7 and Ole Miss and Florida another behind at 13-8.

Should be interesting.

LSU is in a dogfight, too, albeit of a different sort, fighting for its postseason life down there at the bottom of the standings.

It’s not the kind of riffraff the Tigers prefer to be associating with, but, as head coach Paul Mainieri said, “It’s the reality.”

So LSU (27-17) sits at No. 11 in the conference with a 7-14 record, two games ahead of Texas A&M, Missouri and this week’s road opponent, Auburn, all at 5-16.

So here’s the deal: “We have to win some series,” Mainieri said.

“We’re at three weekends to go, and if we want to get into the NCAA Tournament, we have to win some series,” Mainieri said.

They have won two of their seven SEC weekends and have been swept twice. That’s glaring.

Still, the ratings percentage index isn’t bad at all — No. 24, mostly due to having played the nation’s toughest schedule.

But there’s more to catching the NCAA selection committee’s eye than just that.

First order of business would be to stay in the SEC’s top 12, which happens to be the most even a bloated conference tournament can handle.

Miss the SEC Tournament and you can forget about the NCAAs. It just gives the committee a convenient out to ignore and discard a workable RPI.

LSU is three games behind Georgia and Kentucky, which are tied for ninth. So the current 11th is probably the ceiling.

The Tigers simply can’t have two of the three teams below them pass them and keep them away from tournament in Hoover, Alabama.

And it could still happen.

The good news is that the worst is over. The Tigers’ seven previous SEC series was a minefield that included six teams ranked in the national top 10 at the time they played by at least one of the myriad of rankings. Arkansas was No. 1 last weekend, Vanderbilt was No. 1 when they played.

Conversely, none of the last three weekends will be against ranked teams.

The bad news: there are no light touches in the conference, not this year anyway.

But the final three will include road weekends against two of the teams just below LSU, Auburn starting Thursday and Texas A&M in two weeks, sandwiched around a home series with Alabama (11-10).

“It’s not inconceivable that we could finish sixth,” Mainieri said.

I’m not sure what kind of new math he’s working with there, but winning all three remaining SEC series would mean the Tigers won half of them, which would look a lot better than the present.

If not, two of three, providing LSU isn’t victim of a sweep, would still tidy up the résumé.

No, it’s not where LSU would like to be right now. But the reality Mainieri spoke of even made him break one of his oldest rules when took some liberties with the “onegame-at-a-time” commandment.

You start talking about sweeping a series or even winning a series, “Then you lose the first two games of the series, the series is over. They have no motivation in Game 3.”

But it says something about the dire plight that LSU is in right now that Mainieri was willing to challenge that long-standing edict.

Before Monday’s game against Southern University, which LSU figured to win, and did, Mainieri talked “big picture” to his team, basically telling them they need to win some series.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

“It’s not something I do often,” Mainieri explained of looking ahead. “I just felt this was the right time to do that … I thought going into this weekend that the big picture would be a motivating factor for the team to understand that there is a lot to play for if we can get the job done.

“You say that to let them know that goals are still attainable. All is not lost. With 12 games to play, we can still salvage something.”

And maybe sometimes you do have to rearrange goals.

Mainieri, for instance, related the end of his father’s coaching career.

Demie Mainieri coached 30 years at Miami Dade North Community College. He’d never had a losing season.

But his final team approached the season’s last game with a .500 record — the career streak was on the line in the final game of his career.

“I was the most nervous I’ve ever been for my dad,” Mainieri said. “He had to win the last game he ever coached.”

Dad and Dade did win the final game.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com””Scooter Hobbs updated

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