Paul Mainieri takes out a purple pen each game to fill out his lineup card.
Sunday, that pen was of no use to LSU’s coach in that way at all. Instead, he used it to attack a copy of the Southeastern Conference standings on his desk, left bleeding purple from him crossing out records and standings of the various teams and writing in new ones.
Four teams didn’t need to have their numbers changed: Florida and Vanderbilt, which wrapped up their three-game series Saturday, and LSU and Alabama.
The Tigers and Crimson Tide played Sunday, but only to finish Game 2 of a water-logged and stunted series at 12:24 a.m. On Sunday afternoon, they waited and waited for a break in the clouds that never came, washing out the finale of a series that ended in a frustrating 1-1 standoff.
Watching the clouds and the radar gave way to watching the Internet for the results of other key SEC games, like Mississippi State-Tennessee and Ole Miss-Georgia.
None of them went LSU’s way. The Tigers sat idle as Ole Miss and State won, keeping them in front of LSU (14-11-1 in SEC play) with one regular-season weekend remaining.
The Rebels are 17-10, the Bulldogs 16-11. LSU took two of three at Ole Miss and swept State, facts that only add to the irritation that this 2014 season has served up for Mainieri and his Tigers.
LSU could be tied for second with Mississippi State had it won instead of tied with Georgia, their Sunday game ending in a standoff because of the SEC’s travel curfew rule that thumbs a nose at competitive integrity. Of course, this is the same conference that is keeping permanent opponents in football, so one shouldn’t be so shocked.
“That tie could come back to be a negative for us as well,” Mainieri said. “Between travel curfews and weather, it’s been a frustrating year.”
After playing well past midnight and spending half his Sunday at the ballpark with no game to show for it, Mainieri sounded frustrated enough to bite through a bat.
For the record, since both LSU and Bama are finished with spring semester classes and finals, the SEC waived a rule that typically requires a Sunday game to start by 4 p.m. But the freight train of rain clouds eventually proved too much to overcome and sent the Crimson Tide packing for home.
A win Sunday would have been huge for LSU. The Tigers can probably forget about being a top eight national seed unless they sweep their final four regular-season games and win the SEC tournament again, but LSU still is in the hunt to host a regional. Do that and get an upset in the opposite regional — a Stony Brook-like sequel, anyone? — and LSU could be hosting a super regional.
The Tigers still even have a shot to win the West. It would take LSU sweeping at Auburn, Ole Miss getting swept at Texas A&M and Mississippi State losing two of three at Alabama. Considering how the Tigers’ luck has run, though, that seems too much for LSU to hope for this season.
“Everyone will be going into the last weekend with something at stake,” Mainieri said. “Should make for an exciting weekend for sure.”
A more attainable goal for the Tigers is to finish with one of the four best records in the SEC, regardless of division. That would give LSU a bye in next week’s conference tournament — keeping LSU out of a single-elimination first-round game Tuesday — and greatly enhance their hopes of hosting a regional.
To do that, LSU likely needs to take two of three at Auburn while Alabama wins two of three (but doesn’t sweep) State. That, plus the fact Vandy or South Carolina (both now 16-11) will saddle the other with at least two losses (barring rain, of course), would put LSU in the top four.
“My sense is you’ve got to finish in the top four in the SEC to feel you’ve got a good shot at hosting” a regional, Mainieri said. “There’s been several years the SEC has been given five host sites. If there’s only four, you’d think they’d give them to the top four finishers.
“Say, hypothetically, Florida, Vandy and Ole Miss get one. So does the fourth one come down to us, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Alabama? Do they not care about where you finish in the standings or who got the bye?
“You’d like to think teams earn it on the field. I have no idea whether we host or not. All we can control is these next four games and the SEC tournament, try to make our résumé as attractive as it can possibly be.”
Maybe dress up that résumé with a little purple ink, Paul.