Regional baseball the topic of conversation following his team’s loss to Florida that eliminated it from the Southeastern Conference tournament Saturday, LSU coach Paul Mainieri said his team is “about as ready to go” as he could anticipate.
For now, it won’t have to go far.
Making its 29th NCAA tournament appearance, LSU will host a regional for the 23rd time in the last 27 seasons and will find out at 11 a.m. Monday whether it is a top-eight national seed, which would guarantee home-field advantage at Alex Box Stadium until the College World Series.
The Tigers, who were tasked with replacing eight of nine offensive starters from last season’s College World Series team and started 2-5 in SEC play, have a torrid end of the season to thank for their fifth straight home regional.
“There was a time a month ago where being able to host a regional probably seemed like a little bit of a far-fetched idea,” Mainieri said Sunday. “There was a time where we were hoping we’d finish around .500 in conference play and finish with 35 wins. … Obviously we’re very proud of the stretch run we made, and I always felt we had it in us. It was nice to see it actually happen out there on the field; we won a lot of tough, hard-fought, close ballgames to put ourselves in this position.”
With its only two losses at the hands of regular-season consensus No. 1 Florida, LSU went 14-2 in May while making a run to the SEC tournament semifinals, where it lost 1-0 to the Gators in the fifth meeting between the teams in 10 days.
The SEC was given seven of the 16 regional host sites, and speculation suggests the conference could get as many as five national seeds when the full field is unveiled Monday — unprecedented dominance by one conference in the college baseball postseason.
In each of the three seasons preceding 2016, the conference had just four host sites and two national seeds.
“You didn’t know whether or not (the committee was) going to try to spread (hosts) throughout the country, even though the teams that were worthy were located in our conference,” Mainieri said. “It was nice to see that the committee doesn’t say one thing and do another. If sites are supposed to be given based on merit, seven SEC schools deserved to host. And I’m glad to see that all seven are actually hosting.”
Entering Sunday’s conference title games, all seven SEC teams selected to host regionals — Florida (first), Texas A&M (fourth), Ole Miss (fifth), LSU (seventh), South Carolina (eighth), Vanderbilt (ninth) and Mississippi State (11th) — were ranked in the top 11 of the NCAA’s official RPI rankings, and all had more than 40 wins.
Now speculation turns to Monday’s selection show, which the Tigers will gather to view at Alex Box Stadium, hoping to see their late-season work fulfilled with what seemed impossible a month ago: a national seed.
“There’s no gimmes from this point forward,” Mainieri said. “Even if you’re a host, even if you’re a national seed, that really doesn’t guarantee you anything, except for the fact you don’t have to travel. You still have to go win the games on the field.”
Mainieri was adamant that, no matter Monday’s outcome, his team will remain emotionally level — no huge cheers at the sight of a top-eight seed, no chairs kicked in disgust if LSU’s not among them.
Sunday’s historic day for the conference left the 10th-year coach with a better hunch of which alternative he can expect.
“Knowing that the host sites were based on merit, as evidenced by the fact that they gave seven to the Southeastern Conference,” Mainieri said, “I feel better about our chances of securing a national seed.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome