While Clemson flashed as the No. 7 national seed inside the Alex Box Stadium Champion’s Club, a nervous hush enveloped those assembled.
“I thought we were going to get that seven-spot,” Kramer Robertson said. “They got it I was like ‘Oh man.’”
Paul Mainieri kept a tight eye on his cell phone while pacing about. His players sat four to a table, silently.
“I was a little bit nervous,” Mainieri said, “but not terribly. Because in my mind I was mentally ready to handle whatever the decision was.”
Seconds later, Mainieri’s seemingly implausible inclination from last month was rewarded.
On the heels of a 14-2 May where its only two losses came to the No. 1 overall national seed Florida, LSU was listed alongside the Gators as the No. 8 national seed during Monday’s NCAA baseball selection show. Players let out nervous yells and applauded as, ironically, the televisions went black.
Staffers scrambled to get ESPNU back on the screen, but nothing could damper the crescendo of a whirlwind month that began when Mainieri challenged his team to win its final 12 games and secure a super regional.
The demand, which the Tigers nearly fulfilled by winning 11 of their final 12 games, came uncharacteristically from Mainieri. The tenth-year coach is strict “one day at a time” strategist who rarely looks past his team’s next game.
“It just shows the maturity we had as a team and the confidence he had in us and we had in ourselves,” Jake Fraley said of his coach’s unorthodox tone. “We knew that we had the character and everybody realized that in the fall. It’s the kind of team, as we continue and step on the field more and more, we’re going to continue to gel as a team. And I could see that early in the fall that that was the kind of players we had.”
It means, for a fifth straight season, a path to the College World Series will traverse through Baton Rouge and Alex Box Stadium.
The Tigers are one of the SEC’s four national seeds, joining Florida, regular-season champion Mississippi State (No. 6) and tournament champion Texas A&M (No. 4).
LSU went 6-6 against those three teams in its 42-18 pre-NCAA tournament season with four of those wins coming in May — no doubt a factor in ensuring its national seed and giving a team that replaced eight of nine starters in its everyday lineup a taste of what the next two weeks will be.
“You can’t mimic that,” Mainieri said. “It just hardens you.”
The Tigers had an RPI of No. 7 entering the day, trailing the No. 1 Gators, No. 4 Aggies and No. 5 Ole Miss. Though they will host a regional, the Rebels were not awarded a national seed.
[Click here to see the full NCAA tournament bracket.]
LSU will play No. 4 seed Utah Valley at 2 p.m. Friday. Also in Baton Rouge, No. 3-seed Southeastern and No. 2-seed Rice will play at 7 p.m. Friday. The Tigers are paired with the Raleigh Regional, where NC State is the host site with Coastal Carolina, St. Mary’s and Navy, for a potential super regional.
No games will be televised. All Baton Rouge regional games will be broadcast on ESPN3.com and the WatchESPN smartphone app.
“You got to win the regional for the super regional to even be a thing,” starter Jared Poche deadpanned.
And so Mainieri’s patented approach tone returned.
He knew little of Utah Valley, the Western Athletic Conference tournament champions that LSU plays Friday at 2 p.m. The Wolverines have a 4.28 team ERA and .288 team batting average. They’ve played Sacramento State and Ball State — both LSU opponents — five times this season, going 3-2.
“Whether we’re a national seed or not a national seed, it’s not going to help us beat Utah Valley or Southeastern or Rice,” Mainieri said. “It won’t help us win a super regional if we’re fortunate enough to get through a regional. You have to earn everything you get in this tournament.”
Though, he added: “It’s wonderful to think that you don’t have to pack your bags again until Omaha.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome