As the No. 7 national seed popped up on the 50-inch flat screen, Aaron Nola’s heart began pounding harder than ever.
Seven of the eight national seeds had been revealed, and LSU had not appeared.
Surrounded by teammates and coaches in the Champions Club lounge at Alex Box Stadium, Nola watched nervously for national seed No. 8.
It was LSU.
Players erupted in cheers, coach Paul Mainieri gave a fist pump toward the beige ceiling, and the Tigers had completed a magical march to gaining a key NCAA postseason spot.
“We showed up on the board,” Nola said, “and all of the weight lifted off my shoulders. It’s awesome to get a national seed.”
Mainieri said: “The real season begins now.”
LSU claimed the last of the eight national seeds in the NCAA tournament and will host a best-of-three super regional if it wins a four-team regional this weekend.
The Tigers (44-14-1) will host Southeastern Louisiana, Houston and Bryant in a regional starting Friday. Those three teams each won their conference tournament, and Houston has an RPI of No. 10.
The Tigers and Lions (37-23) meet at 2 p.m. Friday to open the regional. LSU will “probably” start either freshman Jared Poché or Nola, Mainieri said Monday. Houston (44-15) and Bryant (42-14) meet at 7 p.m. Friday. The winners play at 7 p.m. Saturday for the right to advance to the regional final Sunday.
It’s no easy regional.
Southeastern might be one of the strongest No. 4 seeds at any of the 16 regionals, and Houston just a few weeks ago was poised to host its own regional.
The big get, though, was landing a Top 8 seed — something that seemed so distant to this team just a week ago.
It was a close.
LSU was one of five teams considered for the final three national seeds, NCAA baseball committee chairman Dennis Farrell said. Vanderbilt and Rice were left out for No. 6 seed Louisiana-Lafayette, seventh seed TCU and LSU.
“Rice, I’m sure, is kind of upset about it,” Mainieri said. “They won the regular season, won their tournament, have a heck of a team, and were a spot ahead of us in the RPI. It’s a tough decision those committees have to make.”
Rice’s regional — a stiff group of teams that includes Texas and Texas A&M — is paired with LSU. The Tigers, with a regional title, would host the Rice regional winner next week for the chance to advance to the College World Series.
LSU is five wins from a second straight trip to Omaha — and all of the games will come in Alex Box Stadium. The Tigers have never reached the CWS by winning a super regional on the road since this format began in 1999.
They won’t have to in 2014.
“It’s a 56-game season, and your only goal is to be a national seed,” senior Sean McMullen said. “Can’t think about Omaha, can’t think about the really big picture. You’ve got to worry about what you can control: putting yourself in position to get a national seed.”
A late-season surge thrust LSU into a third straight national seed selection.
The Tigers have won eight straight games, beating those teams by an 87-8 margin, one of the most dominant stretches for the program in the past decade.
They capped off an undefeated run at the Southeastern Conference tournament in Hoover on Sunday with a 2-0 win over SEC regular season champion Florida.
In just five days, Mainieri’s club went from being on the fringe of getting one of the 16 regional sites to, now, locking up a national seed.
LSU’s RPI was No. 20 before this wild eight-game stretch began with a history-making 27-0 win over Northwestern State, the largest margin of victory in program history.
The Tigers’ RPI Monday was No. 9, third-best in the SEC.
“We’re playing great the past eight games,” Nola said. “I think the (Northwestern State) game kind of set the tone for us. Since then, we’ve been hitting the ball well, been pitching well.”
Other national seeds are Nos. 1 Oregon State, 2 Florida, 3 Virginia, 4 Indiana and 5 Florida State.
The ESPNU selection show broadcast waited until the very end. All that mattered, though, was those three letters appearing on the television.
“I was a tad nervous,” Mainieri said. “We had heard rumors about us being the 7 seed. I had a pretty good feeling, though, we were going to get it. I just had a sense.”