Paul Mainieri laughed, recalling the 2012 NCAA super regional.
“I thought from then on, when I went to speaking engagements, I was going to be introduced as the guy who lost to Stony Brook,” the LSU coach said. “That was going to be my legacy.”
The eve of his sixth super regional in 10 seasons was light. Mainieri warned against fans taking this Coastal Carolina team as lightly as they did the Seawolves, which gave the Tigers their only home super regional loss in program history.
Mainieri has guided his team full of previously unknown names — it replaced eight of nine starters on last season’s veteran-laden team — to the cusp of college baseball’s biggest stage. Now, it meets another foe few have heard.
THE SCOUTING REPORT
Roster turnover has proved to be of little issue for Mainieri’s offense, which features eight of nine everyday players hitting .285 or better. The new-look bats carried the team through a struggling, 2-5 start in SEC play, when reigning National Freshman of the Year Alex Lange navigated through a brief sophomore slump. Lange and veteran Jared Poché are now purring at the perfect time, pairing with this surprising, upstart offense.
Kramer Robertson, who morphed from a .220 hitter into a first team All-SEC shortstop, is the visible and emotional leader of a confident bunch that’s steadied by center fielder Jake Fraley — the lone returning starter who will play for one final weekend in Alex Box Stadium.
NEW FACES FLOURISH
Antoine Duplantis, Cole Freeman and Chris Reid — three Tigers who had no Division I experience — buoy LSU offensively and defensively.
Duplantis, a true freshman who has hit in the top three of the order in all but one game, has started all 64 games. A subpar offensive regional gave his batting average a drop, but he was LSU’s most consistent and smooth hitter throughout the regular season. Reid, Duplantis’ classmate, solved one of Mainieri’s biggest preseason concerns by taking hold of the third base job. A steady defender with excellent reaction time, Reid has made just eight errors in 53 games while hovering around .300.
A Gold Glover as a second baseman at Delgado, Freeman began his LSU career at third base before flipping to his more natural position. He garnered All-SEC defensive team honors while functioning as the Tigers’ everyday nine-hole hitter. Yes, nine-hole hitter. Freeman has excelled at the bottom of the order, hitting .321 while utilizing his speed to beat out drag bunts or slow choppers, easily turning the potent lineup over.
Sitting at 29-16 and facing a 9-1 deficit against SEC cellar-dweller Arkansas, LSU received an unlikely boost from an opossum that ran free in left field during the seventh inning. The Tigers rallied to win 10-9 and have lost just three games since — two coming to No. 1 overall seed Florida — turning the “Rally Possum” into a craze.
BEEN HERE BEFORE
Saturday’s opener will be LSU’s 21st home super regional game and 200th in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers are 15-5 in home super regional contests. Two of the five losses were to Stony Brook.
BUT NEVER MET YOU
LSU and Coastal Carolina have never met in baseball.