HOOVER, Ala. — The LSU Tigers have won 29 baseball titles of various types under coach Paul Mainieri since 2008 — a stat he is more than happy to share with anyone.
I believe he carries a laminated list just in case of emergency. My natural skepticism leads me to wonder if there is a jambalaya cooking title in there somewhere.
Just kidding. LSU’s baseball program has been just that successful under its Hall of Fame coach. This, of course, has not been your vintage Hall of Fame-level LSU baseball season.
The Tigers were 35-24 entering Friday night’s scheduled Southeastern Conference tournament rematch with Florida. The loss of great stars from last year’s team like Alex Lange, Jared Poché, Kramer Robertson and Greg Deichmann, plus a host of injuries to key players this season has conspired to keep title No. 30 under Mainieri as an unreached goal.
Regardless of the outcome in Friday night's game against top-ranked Florida, the Tigers surely reached a major goal two previous wins here: Tuesday's 8-5 win over Mississippi State and Thursday’s 6-4, 12-inning victory over South Carolina, otherwise known as The Todd Peterson Show (watch it now on Hulu).
LSU is in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers just have to be.
No one should suggest that LSU, with its Intimidator billboard marking six national championships (not to mention last year’s near-miss at No. 7 with a loss to Florida in the College World Series final), can be happy with settling for for a mere NCAA tournament berth. That would be like suggesting Alabama could be happy with merely making a bowl game, or that Kentucky could be satisfied by a one-and-done stint in March Madness.
This season, though, just making it to the big show might have to suffice for the Tigers. Not every season can be a march to a national championship, even if that's the goal.
Sometimes, as Knute Rockne once said, the breaks end up beating the boys, and that has certainly been the case in 2018. The Tigers long ago reached their insurance deductible on players like Josh Smith, Brandt Broussard, AJ Labas, Nick Storz and of course Eric Walker, shelved for all of 2018 after requiring Tommy John surgery last summer.
The acceptability bar should never sink so low for LSU baseball that missing the NCAA field of 64 is OK. But that was a real possibility for the Tigers entering this year’s SEC tournament — especially faced with the one-and-done prospect of Tuesday’s first-round game against Mississippi State.
After three games, though, including an oh-so-close 4-3 loss Wednesday to Florida — about three inches to the left and Jake Slaughter’s eighth-inning smash at third eludes Jonathan India, and it turns into a two-run double — LSU should have done enough. Enough to earn a thumbs-up from the NCAA baseball selection committee.
Everyone knows that committees can be fickle, illogical things. Aerospace businessman Norman Augustine once said “The optimum committee has no members,” and that tells you all you need to know.
One thing Mainieri can tell you, after he tells you about the 29 titles, is how the 2011 NCAA selection committee shut the door on LSU despite its No. 21 RPI.
That team went just 13-17 in SEC regular-season play and was one spot shy of making what was then an eight-team SEC tournament. This year's Tigers finished 15-15 in conference play, and that is a tough threshold in a tough conference for any NCAA committee to discount.
LSU’s NCAA RPI actually somehow sank one notch to No. 41 after the Tigers' win over then-No. 33 South Carolina. Another quote about lies, damn lies and statistics comes to mind.
Todd Peterson lied about launching nukes with his bat in high school to Mainieri before doubling in two runs off the wall in left against the Gamecocks, turning himself into an overnight media sensation (upon further review, Peterson was 0 for 6 batting as a high school senior in Florida).
But the numbers should be good enough. That .500 SEC record, plus two more high quality victories here in Hoover — Mississippi State still has an RPI of 25 and South Carolina is still at 38 — simply have to be enough to push the Tigers over the top.
Of course, you can always end any speculation with an SEC tournament title and the attached NCAA automatic bid. For LSU, though, as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned, that would be lagniappe.
We will not truly know until the bids are revealed Monday.
But these Tigers have done enough to make this season’s most tenuous goal a reality. They should be in.