Greg Deichmann was in Mequon, Wisconsin watching the games on his cell phone while playing summer baseball. Kramer Robertson was minutes away at his apartment, injured and unable to bring himself to Alex Box Stadium while LSU tore through the 2015 Baton Rouge regional.
“I didn’t want to watch in the stands because that would be pretty brutal,” Robertson said Thursday on the eve of the Tigers’ 2016 regional opener against Utah Valley. “But I guess watching on TV wasn’t much easier.”
Antoine Duplantis sat at home in Lafayette. He admits not watching much of the regional, but came to one super regional game, where his hometown Ragin Cajuns were walked off by former LSU outfielder Chris Sciambra.
Bryce Jordan, at least, was in the dugout. He saw no action in LSU’s five home postseason games but was a member of the active roster.
“It is setting in,” Jordan said Thursday. “It’s definitely a shocker. Sitting on the bench last year then this year getting to play, just knowing it’s tomorrow.”
The quartet leads eight Tigers starters with little to no posteason experience when the Baton Rouge regional opens at 2 p.m. Friday.
Duplantis, Robertson and Cole Freeman — three players who did not play at all in the postseason last year — are three of four Tigers to start all 60 games. The other is Jake Fraley, the Tigers’ lone returning starter on a team derided early in the season for its inexperience that now requests they not be called “young.”
“We’ve played so many games, us young guys can’t be considered as young anymore,” catcher Mike Papierski said. “We’ve played enough just to go out there and do what we do best.”
Before a deluge halted Rice’s practice time, LSU was able to practice fully on the field Thursday morning. Batting practice was carefree. Deichmann made a slick pick at first base on Robertson’s jump throw, getting a rousing compliment from hitting coach Andy Cannizaro, who stood just behind the batting cage to monitor his hitters.
Jordan put a baseball nearly out of the stadium. Deichmann followed. A medley of trite pop music blared overhead, Taylor Swift included. Players sang. All was, ostensibly, normal.
“It’s kind of the way you run your program,” coach Paul Mainieri said of his team’s relaxation. “I’m pretty demanding of our players and I make them do things the right way every day in practice and if they don’t, then they catch the wrath a little bit. The reason we do that is I want to put pressure on them every day in practice to see how they handle the pressure and also, so when we get to the postseason, they don’t have to feel like they need to try to do anything better than they’ve been doing all year.”
Mainieri gathered his team on the infield grass for a brief team meeting, reinforcing this point. The tenth-year coach will start veteran southpaw Jared Poche against the Wolverines — Poche’s second regional-opener start in three seasons.
“The Box was crazy,” Poche said of that start against No. 4 seed Southeastern Louisiana on May 30, 2014. “I just remember it being out of control and a lot of adrenaline pumping early … At the end of the day I have to go out there, try not to do too much, pitch my game, let my defense do its job behind me.”
Poche permitted eight hits and four earned runs across six innings. He left the game while his team trailed 4-2. LSU scored six runs in the last two innings to distance itself from the upset-minded Lions.
The Wolverines make a 1,636-mile journey with similar aspirations. It is the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance and four of its 50-game starters are seniors. Six hitters swing at a .300 clip or higher.
“Clearly Alex Lange is the guy, if you’re fortunate enough to get in the winner’s bracket game, you’d like to have him go, but we’re not playing a cupcake in this first game,” Mainieri said. “We couldn’t pitch off the first game lower than a guy that’s been our first and second starter his whole career. That’s the respect I have for Utah Valley.”
Added Deichmann: “We’re ready to get going, the inexperienced factor isn’t something we think about much anymore. We’re 60 games into the season now. I don’t think the inexperience is much of anything, it’s just we’re playing at the Box like it’s another home game.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome