OMAHA, Neb. – Paul Mainieri positioned himself on a chair as LSU’s baseball team sat on the batting cage floor in front of him.
It was time for a talk.
About 20 hours after the Tigers’ 10-3 loss to TCU in the College World Series opener, the LSU coach on Monday afternoon gave a positive-infused speech to his team. He spoke for 25 minutes before they practiced at Creighton University.
He told them they played well in the first three innings of Sunday’s game before a fourth-inning collapse. He told them they were good enough to storm back from the losers’ bracket to win it all. He told them, even, what the starting pitching plan was for the next week.
He tried to sweep away all thoughts of LSU’s error-filled worst loss of the season.
“They’re young kids. Obviously, it’s a blow to their system,” Mainieri said. “It’s my job to regroup them and get them back into the frame of mind that’s necessary — for them to feel good about themselves, be positive about tomorrow. Nothing good will happen with negative thoughts.”
LSU (53-11) begins its march out of the losers’ bracket against Cal State Fullerton (39-24) at 2 p.m. Tuesday in an elimination game. The season’s on the line as the Tigers try to avoid back-to-back 0-and-2 trips on college baseball’s grandest stage.
They have some things going for them.
Freshman ace Alex Lange (11-0, 1.89) is on the mound, and the Tigers are 14-2 this year in games that he’s started. Fullerton, a regional No. 1 seed that won at No. 3 national seed Louisville to get here, is batting .265.
LSU’s bats will get freshman right-handed pitcher Connor Seabold (5-3, 2.84), who was thrust into a weekend role after an injury to preseason All-American hurler Justin Garza late in the season.
Another thing: The Tigers haven’t lost consecutive games this year. They’re 10-0 after losses, outscoring opponents 96-32 in those games.
How have they done that?
“We’re immensely tough,” outfielder Jake Fraley. “We have the right mindset.”
Said shortstop Alex Bregman: “We’re just trying to find ways to win after we lose. That’s the mindset tomorrow. Leave it all out there.”
The focus is clear: It’s on Fullerton. But from a pitching perspective, Mainieri must look further down the road. A team without a consistent No. 3 starter, LSU must win four straight elimination games to reach the best-of-three championship series starting Monday.
Mainieri revealed his starting pitching plan to players and then reporters before Monday’s practice — all of it, of course, contingent on LSU continuing to win.
Lange is set for his Tuesday start. Mainieri will patch together Thursday’s game with a host of relievers, something he refers to as “Jack Wholestaff.” Jared Poché, who took the loss in a struggling start Sunday, will pitch Friday, and Mainieri plans to use “Wholestaff” again Saturday.
Lange would start Game 1 of the championship series.
“I have to tell the players that so they can see the image I have as well,” the coach said. “I see the vision of how it’s going to play out. I have to think that way. If I’m not thinking positive, how can the players think positive.”
Only two teams since 1999 have lost the first game at the CWS and won the event. It’s not something Mainieri told his team.
His speech was a positive one. For instance, he told the story of his 2009 team that lost the first game of the SEC tournament and won the next five to win the whole thing. Pitcher Zac Person told players about LSU-Eunice’s 2012 national championship run — one that started with a first-game loss.
The biggest positive, maybe: LSU has its All-American ace on the mound.
“I don’t look at it as a chance to save the season,” Lange said. “I look at it as one game at a time, trying to give my team a chance to play in the next game.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.