Josh Smith couldn’t stifle a giggle.
Just a few weeks ago he was answering question after question about what was wrong with this LSU baseball team. Now he was up on a podium with his coach and fellow players Trent Vietmeier and Zach Watson, answering questions about what it meant to be hosting an NCAA super regional later this week.
“I’m just so excited right now,” the Tigers shortstop said, his eyes dancing. “It’s just awesome. A lot of people doubted us, but a chance to host a super regional is pretty awesome.”
Yes, another NCAA super regional is coming to Baton Rouge.
Super normal? In a sense, yes. This is LSU’s 14th one in the past 21 seasons.
Super surprising? After the way LSU’s luck has run most of this season, absolutely.
Super-sized anticipation? Considering the clash of two blueblood programs, LSU and Florida State, and that this is the last hurrah for retiring FSU coach Mike Martin, it could be off the charts.
LSU baseball beat Southern Miss 6-4 on Sunday night to win its regional. The Tigers will host a super regional next weekend.
Just a few weeks ago, when LSU was mired in a season-long five-game losing streak and staring down the barrel of a three-game sweep at Arkansas, who would have thought it would come to this?
But with a big assist from No. 4-national seed Georgia, which cratered against the Seminoles with 12-3 and 10-1 losses in its hosted regional in Athens, LSU is the home team with two wins separating the Tigers from a trip to the College World Series.
A super regional at LSU. A chance for the Tigers to roar once more. And a chance for Tiger fans to shake their fists, bellow into the night and tell an opposing team, “You’re in our house now, mister. And you’re in big trouble.”
This regional win even came via a super comeback by the Tigers. Well, a medium-sized comeback at least. USM, which rallied from eight down to beat Arizona State 13-12 Sunday afternoon, rallied again from 3-0 down for a 4-3 lead in the fifth before LSU stitched together four straight hits in the seventh from Antoine Duplantis, Daniel Cabrera, Zach Watson and Saul Garza to volley back in front 6-4. Trent Vietmeier and Devin Fontentot kept the comeback-minded Golden Eagles off the board to preserve the clincher.
“I think a lot of people forget that we were the preseason No. 1 team,” Smith said, clearly not forgetting. “This is a really good team.
“I don’t think anybody in that dugout thought we were going to lose that game.”
On paper, the chance to host a No. 3 seed from another regional would look like a highly desirable situation. And it is, easily trumping the alternative of having to play a top-eight national seed on the road.
But the Seminoles, whom it looked like the selection committee granted favored nation status to because of Martin’s retirement, looked nothing like a No. 3 seed in the Athens regional. The Seminoles, who came in with a No. 50 RPI, stormed through Georgia like a certain former LSU commandant (A Gen. William T. Sherman of some repute), scoring double-digit runs in all three games.
You can debate whether FSU deserved to get an at-large NCAA bid in the first place, but you can’t deny the Seminoles are one hot tamale right now.
On the home team front, this is definitely starting to look something like the LSU team that was ranked No. 1 or 2 in most of the preseason polls. Pitching has been as healthy as it’s been all season, and the timely hitting with the rise of players like Garza and Broussard is keeping LSU in every game.
And since that five-game losing streak, the Tigers are a robust 10-3.
LSU baseball is just TWO WINS away from going to OMAHA!
“This year there seem to have been a few forks in the road,” Mainieri said. “But we are where we are, two wins to go to Omaha.
“Whatever route it took for us to get here, I’m glad this is where we are.”
It’s the 17th super regional for the Seminoles, most of any program since the current NCAA tournament format was established in 1999. For LSU this is its 14th super regional, which ties Cal State Fullerton for the second most.
Amazingly, it will be the first super regional the Tigers and Seminoles play against each other. LSU beat FSU twice in the 2017 College World Series en route to the final.
Now, they meet to go back to the CWS.
Super amazing, isn’t it?
Normally for LSU, it wouldn’t be. But this season, with the injury-ravaged pitching and at times anemic hitting finally coming to form, it certainly is.