Looking for Omaha: Despite walking back comments, Vols likely to give Mainieri, LSU rocky welcome`

Scooter Hobbs

Don’t expect Tennessee Vols fans to have an orange Welcome Wagon waiting on LSU tonight when the Tigers arrive for the Knoxville Super Regional.

In fact, LSU head coach Paul Mainieri’s first order of business after arriving for practice Friday at Tennessee’s Lindsey Nelson Stadium was to apologize to Rocky Top.

The teams open the best-of-3 series tonight with a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series on the line, a rematch of a regular-season sweep by the No. 3 Volunteers (48-16) in the same venue.

It didn’t take long after LSU (38-23) unexpectedly punched its ticket to the super regional for the UT faithful to dig up Mainieri’s comments from a few days after that frustrating weekend for the Tigers, in which they lost the three games by a total of four runs, two by walk-off.

He used words like “nasty” to describe the atmosphere, and that “the other team was not handling things with a lot of class, quite frankly.”

The revised version on the eve of this weekend’s showdown is that it was meant as a compliment.

Or, as LSU center fielder Drew Bianco recalled.“- Just fans being fans.”

But Mainieri’s take was that although “I stuck my foot in my mouth and made some comments that I really didn’t think about,” what he was really saying was his team wasn’t ready at the time to handle its first Southeastern Conference road trip.

“I didn’t mean to criticize the people here. A handful of college kids, they were riding Tré Morgan pretty hard. I wasn’t so much criticizing them as much as him not handling it very well. He had to learn how to handle it.

“Go to any SEC ballpark, including (LSU’s) Alex Box Stadium, and you’re going to hear fans saying things to the other team trying to distract them and get them out of their game. It’s what makes it fun. Our players needed to learn how to handle it. That just happened to be the first experience they had in the league.”

Whether the apology was enough to placate Tennessee fans is doubtful. And the stadium, which was coronavirus pandemic-limited to 25 percent of its 4,283-seat capacity for that trip in March, will be overflowing for this far more important series.

Mainieri said that’s actually better — if it’s only a thousand or so, you hear every word; when it’s full it’s all just a murmur.

“They added some bleachers, I see. Looks like it’s going to be a raucous crowd. It’s going to be college baseball at its finest,” he said.

But that won’t the only difference.

“I think we’re a completely different team than we were back then,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’ll win. I just feel like there are a lot of things different about our team now than there was then.”

The Tigers won their other four SEC road series, including the full, crazy house at Ole Miss and two consecutive games against Oregon on the Ducks’ home field to get to this point.

“I just feel like our team is more hardened,” Mainieri said.

LSU won’t start its usual series-opening ace Landon Marceaux tonight because he pitched twice last weekend at Oregon.

Instead, senior righthander Ma’Khail Hilliard (6-0, 4.56 ERA) will step in with Marceaux (7-6, 2.44) going in Sunday’s game and, if it gets to a third game, A.J. Labas (4-2, 5.42) finishing up.

“The extra day’s rest will help Landon,” Mainieri said. “Game 1 or Game 2, they’re equally important as far as I’m concerned. You’re going to go up against the other team’s best pitchers.”

The crowd isn’t likely to have an effect on Hilliard, a senior who barely shows a pulse when on the mound.

It’s quite a turnaround for Hilliard, who lost his starter’s role last season and wasn’t in the weekend rotation at the start of the season.

But he came on strong when reinserted late in the season and was a big part of the Tigers’ late surge.

“It feels amazing,” Hilliard said Friday. “It’s crazy that you get these opportunities run into bumps and I’m happy to get this chance.”

””

Paul Mainieri will try to postpone his retirement another weekend as he takes LSU to Knoxville to play No. 3 Tennessee in a super regional, two wins from returning to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

Vasha Hunt / Special to the American Press

Local News

VIDEO: Ben Carson credits success in life to mother’s prayers

Local News

Ground broken for new city park on Anita Drive

Business

Cassidy calls out Biden Administrations for playing fast, loose with law on offshore energy leasing

Local News

VIDEO: Ben Carson describes time at teaching hospital in Australia

Crime

5/2: Calcasieu Parish Sheriff announces arrest list

McNeese Sports

Cowgirls add two inside players

life

Sara Judson column: What you do for yourself dies with you; what you do for others lives forever

Local News

WEATHER UPDATE: Showers, thunderstorms will persist throughout day

Business

Merchants & Farmers Bank promoting financial literacy through comics

Local News

Airline passengers advised to know gun laws when traveling

life

John Bradford doesn’t just grow daylilies, he makes new varieties of them

Local News

Grants available to those who provide summer programs for low-income youth

Local News

Advocates say Supreme Court must preserve new, mostly Black US House district for 2024 elections

Local News

WEATHER WATCH: Increased risk of flash flooding, severe thunderstorms tomorrow

Crime

Possession of stolen firearms lands LC man in prison

Crime

5/1: Calcasieu Parish Sheriff announces arrest list

Local News

Cassidy blasts President Biden over FAFSA rollout delay

Local News

United Methodists repeal longstanding ban on LGBTQ clergy

Local News

Bill to regulate tolls on new Calcasieu River Bridge advances

Local News

Democrats say they will save Speaker Johnson’s job if Republicans try to oust him

Jim Beam

Jim Beam column:PAR, CABL have right solutions

Informer

The Informer: New ‘select’ school definition includes charter, magnet schools

Local News

Superintendent apologizes to bus drivers, board institutes delayed start policy for severe weather days

Local News

US judges have rejected a map that would have given Louisiana a new majority-Black House district