Midweek game hurts LSU’s RPI _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER McCLELLAND -- LSU's Jake Fraley (23) is congratulated by the team for hitting a home run that brought in three runs during Tuesday's game against Alcorn State.

LSU should have gotten together with Spahn and Sain and prayed for rain.

It was tempting the RPI gods enough that the Tigers scheduled Tuesday’s midweek game with Alcorn State. It represented the dreaded no-win scenario for LSU, win or lose, and this isn’t a good season for no-win scenarios.

The Tigers’ RPI slipped from 13 to 15 this week despite the fact LSU won three of four last week from Tulane and Tennessee. It wasn’t going to be helped one wit, one way or another, by playing Alcorn State, 8-36 coming in with a subterranean RPI of 296 (seventh-worst in the nation).

But LSU coach Paul Mainieri and Alcorn State coach (and former Southern assistant) Barret Rey are friends, and Mainieri can appreciate what a thrill it is for the Braves players to play at Alex Box Stadium, even if four out of every five seats was empty. So they played, RPI be dammed. And the threatening clouds held on to their rain.

But after the game, a much-harder-than-expected, 9-7, three-homer-fueled rally, Mainieri was no doubt back in the LSU clubhouse, studying the RPI data on his computer.

“It’s a crowded party right now trying to figure out national seeds and host sites, but it’s like that every year,” Mainieri said before the game.

This year it’s going to be particularly hard to get past the velvet rope.

LSU is one of seven Southeastern Conference teams in the RPI top 20 along with Florida (No. 3), Ole Miss (No. 4), South Carolina (No. 6), Vanderbilt (No. 8), Kentucky (No. 16) and Alabama (No. 20). Add to the mix that the team that plays just an hour west of LSU, Louisiana-Lafayette, is having a career year at No. 12 in the current RPI with an overall record of 39-6.

“Certainly ULL being in it is new and different, and good for them,” Mainieri said. “I’m happy for them. I’m not rooting against them, I can promise you that.

“The SEC overall is very jammed together. That’s why teams haven’t separated themselves except Florida.”

The Gators — who it must be said lost midweek games to Jacksonville and Florida A&M last week (RPI No. 216) before sweeping Missouri in an SEC weekend series — appear to be a strong lock for a top-eight national seed. If that’s true, that leaves the rest of the SEC contenders to fight over a remaining national seed. Two perhaps, but probably just one.

That ratchets up the intensity on both the final nine SEC regular-season games for LSU and the SEC tournament. The Tigers go to Texas A&M this weekend, host Alabama, then wrap up the regular season at Auburn before returning to Hoover, Ala., where LSU has won four of the past six SEC tournaments.

It may come to that, or something close to it, for the Tigers to be a national seed this year.

“By rule of thumb, you think if you win the SEC West, you’re a national seed,” Mainieri said. “I don’t know for sure that’s true (this year).”

That’s one of the reasons Mainieri doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself.

“If we finish in the top four, that will get us a bye in the SEC tournament,” he said. “That would get us a host site for a regional. Then we’ll go from there.”

So throw out Tuesday’s result against Alcorn. It wasn’t going to be a plus for LSU no matter what.

Focus instead on the Tigers’ remaining 10 regular-season games (Northwestern State is a final midweek encounter on May 13). And the SEC tournament.

This is the clutch time. The pennant stretch. The final, frantic month of the season before NCAA regionals start cranking to life.

“If we win enough games, that will take care of itself,” Mainieri said of seeding and RPI. “At the same time, I’m just like everybody else. I’m going to watch the RPI and what other teams do and see how it all plays out, because it affects us.

“But nothing good will happen unless we win the games.”

If LSU dreams of Omaha this year, like most years, the Tigers need their home-field advantage. Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams and super regionals in 1999, LSU has never reached the College World Series without winning a regional and super regional at home.

This Tigers team, challenged offensively and at least for now lacking a consistent third weekend starter, will need all the edges it can get to meet that annual goal, and it still may not be enough.

But there’s little doubt the road to Omaha starts in earnest for LSU right now.