As LSU coach Paul Mainieri sat in his office Tuesday morning, the College World Series held its championship series hundreds of miles away.
Mainieri had coached his final game of the 2019 season a few weeks earlier, a heartbreaking loss to Florida State that ended LSU's pursuit of a title in tearful disappointment.
While eight teams travelled to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series, Mainieri held exit interviews with LSU's players. He digested another season without a championship, and he said goodbye to the core of LSU's team.
Mainieri has started looking toward 2020, filling out LSU's roster and searching for ways to prevent the injuries that plagued the pitching staff the last two seasons.
On Tuesday, Mainieri discussed the past season with The Advocate and gave a glimpse of what to expect next year. This interview has been edited for clarity.
The Advocate: Let's start by looking back on 2019.
Paul Mainieri: When you coach at LSU, when you play at LSU, the attitude every year is Omaha or bust. We came short of that goal. You're never going to be satisfied with a season if you don't get to Omaha and have a chance to win the national championship.
On the other hand, when you think about all that our team went through this year, especially with all the injuries to our pitching staff, and then we lost a couple key players in the middle of the season. (Zach) Watson got hurt, (Daniel) Cabrera was out for a while. There were some games we only had one extra player on the bench. The biggest thing was losing those pitchers we thought were going to be the cornerstone of our team.
When you look at it at the end, we got a bid (and) we hosted a regional. We weren't a top-eight national seed, we were the No. 13 national seed, which hosted a regional and then we were fortunate to host a super regional.
We were two wins from going to Omaha and we lost two heartbreaking games, close, hard-fought games to kind of a team of destiny [Florida State] because the story of their coaching retiring after 40 years. They were very inspired and they played great. I thought we played pretty great, too, and they just won the games.
We won 40 games in the season. We accomplished some things. We watched Antoine Duplantis break the all-time hits record for LSU, which was exciting. There were some good things, but it wasn't a totally satisfying season simply because we didn't get to Omaha.
Paul Mainieri dropped into his office chair.
The Advocate: You mentioned the injuries to the pitching staff, and we've talked before about the domino effect that had on the team, but when you step back, how much did that change and mold this season?
Mainieri: It really did. Even though at the end of the year we did have (Cole) Henry and (Landon) Marceaux, they didn't have an entire season of development. Of course we lost Jaden Hill after two starts. We never got him back.
You sit back and you dream and say, 'OK, what if we would've had Cole Henry, Jaden Hill and Landon Marceaux the entire season? What if each one of them had started 17 games for us? What difference would that have made with our team?' I think it would have made a huge difference. I just believe those three kids are superior, talented pitchers that you dream to get to college. ...
I don't think any of the three of them pitched as well as we expected they would as the year would develop and they went through the natural development process. I thought by the end of the year we wouldn't even think about them as freshmen. We'd be thinking about them winning games in Omaha for us. It didn't work out exactly that way.
Then losing (Easton) McMurray, losing the only lefty we had. Remember, I think we had four lefties the year before. Three of them ended up transferring after the season. So we were short-handed with left-handed pitching, and then the only guy we had was hurt for the entire season.
We thought Nick Storz would be back pitching for us. That never happened. AJ Labas, who was a very solid midweek guy for us the year before, we never got a pitch out of him the entire year.
Ma'Khail Hilliard was fighting back from some arm soreness, and he was never really — he had glimpses of it — but he was never really the same Ma'Khail Hilliard he was the year before. And Eric Walker was not the same Eric Walker he was as a freshman. I'm hoping by next year he'll have his velocity back and be more consistent. ... It's not excuses. It's just reality of what you have to deal with, you know?
That's why I'm saying with everything we dealt with, to win 40 games, to host a regional and win a regional and then to host a super regional and be two wins from getting to Omaha, and those two games being such tight, hard-fought games that easily could have ended up the other way, there's a sense of pride that it could have been disastrous and it wasn't.
We hung in there, and the kids fought right to the end. But there's also that feeling of, 'Well we didn't go to Omaha.' So regardless of what circumstances there were, we still didn't accomplish the ultimate goal.
Freshman pitcher Cole Henry exited Saturday's game in the super regional with a nerve issue. He is expected to be OK for fall practice.
The Advocate: The offense's strikeout rate has gone up the last couple years and it got pretty high this year. How concerning was that? Is that something you need to address moving forward?
Mainieri: It was very concerning. We've taken a great deal of pride through the years that our kids are the toughest team to strike out in the league. It's a combination of ability and competitiveness. ...
Some of it, I think, is a tradeoff of home runs for some strikeouts, but I hope next year we'll strike out less, put more balls in play, become a little bit better team of handling the bat, hit-and-run, those type of things.
The Advocate: You've talked before about what Antoine has meant to you, but when you look at his career, how should he be thought of within LSU lore?
Mainieri: Everybody is going to think of Antoine as the all-time hits record holder, but he's so much more than that.
You can't quantify Antoine's importance to our program. He showed up every day with tremendous work ethic. I don't ever remember seeing him slack off one day at practice and look for shortcuts and not put forth the very best effort.
Every game that he played — he didn't get three hits in every game, nobody can do that — but he approached every game the same way. He was going to step in that batter's box and he was going to compete like crazy.
He was going to know who he was as a hitter, and he was going to try to do something to help his team win. Then he'd go out there to right field and play tremendous defense. He'd get on the bases, and he'd be a really smart, aggressive base runner.
Catcher Brock Mathis and pitcher Will Ripoll intend to transfer from LSU.
Antoine seemed like a veteran player from the first game he ever played here. He knew the game. I talked to him the other day. You know what he told me? He told me that when he committed to us in the summer before his senior year, that his senior year he watched every one of our games that season online. He watched every one of our games. He felt like he was already a part of our team.
He said, 'Coach, you know how you always refer back to certain games or situations to try to teach us things? When you would talk about a situation that happened the year before my freshman year, I already knew that situation because I watched every game.' I never knew that until our exit meeting.
It makes so much sense to me now about how he was able to grasp everything we were trying to do. He was so coachable. He had that instinct to do the right thing all the time. That's a coach's dream.
The Advocate: Going into your 14th year as the coach at LSU, what are you still learning about coaching, and what do you want to get from yourself as a head coach going into year 14?
Mainieri: I've said this to our staff all the time: when you think you've learned everything and you have all the answers, you're making the biggest mistake of your life. I'll be 62 in August. This will be my 38th season as a college coach. And I'm still learning. I'm still learning because things change and things evolve.
This last year, we suffered from all these injuries to our pitchers but we haven't done anything different. Alan (Dunn) hasn't done anything different with the pitchers than he did through his first six years here, when we had great pitching staffs and hardly anybody ever got hurt.
We met the other day with our trainer and our strength coach and Alan and Micah Gibbs, our player development guy. They're all learning new things about how to monitor when a pitcher might be at risk and when you've got to back off on how much throwing he does. There's a sleeve that we're going to use called a Motus sleeve.
In the days after losing a heartbreaking NCAA super regional to Florida State in two games, questions abound for the LSU baseball program.
Our strength and conditioning coach just talked to 30 different people from different schools, professional baseball organizations to see how they condition their pitchers. Are we doing something that's not up to date on what is more common place where maybe it'll put our pitchers less at risk by the way we condition them?
We're bringing in a specialist this fall to study the body movements of our pitchers. It's from a performance company. He's going to be here for two days in September to do an individual analysis of every one of our pitchers so that if we see something that jumps out, then we modify what we're going to be doing with each individual guy. All in the hopes that it will prevent injury.
That's just an example of even at this point in my career, you have to be willing to adapt and change and use modern technology sometimes to help different facets of your program. ... If you stop learning and stop adapting, then you have no chance to be successful.