“You got another message, didn’t you? … What did it say?”
“It said, ‘The man’s done enough.’ ”
— Field of Dreams
HOOVER, Ala. — The LSU Tigers needed to give their all here in the Southeastern Conference tournament to give themselves a chance of hosting an NCAA regional next week.
Perhaps more than anyone thought they were capable of. Perhaps more than they thought deep down they could manage themselves.
No, LSU didn’t “go the distance” to the SEC tournament final like it did last year. Like it did in so many past years here in Hoover. Yes, the Tigers were dusted with some more of that Hoover magic, like when they scored the tying and winning runs off that kicked wild pitch at the plate to beat Auburn 4-3 Thursday. Or when they run-ruled expected top-four national seed Mississippi State 12-2 on Friday night.
But in the end, magic was no match for the reality of an exhausted pitching staff. The result was an eliminating 13-4 loss to No. 1-seeded Vanderbilt, a black and gold steamroller that flattened LSU on its way to a date in Sunday’s tournament final against defending champion Ole Miss.
LSU lost to Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon, eliminating the Tigers from the SEC tournament.
“I feel we did the best we could do,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
Mainieri never wants to leave Hoover without some hardware (his teams have won six titles here and are now 39-10 in this tournament), but even he might have to admit the Commodores did his Tigers a favor in a sense. One less game in Hoover gives LSU one more precious day to set up its pitching for the NCAA regional to come.
The NCAA regional that surely now will be coming home to Alex Box Stadium after a rare one-year hiatus in 2018.
LSU had work to do going into the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament in order to host a regional at Alex Box Stadium.
No one will know for certain until 7:30 p.m. Sunday night. That’s when the 16 regional host sites will be announced on NCAA.com, on the NCAA’s Twitter account and on the Bottom Line on the ESPN channels.
Expect to see the words “Baton Rouge” flitting across the screen.
“We came here and did what we needed to do,” shortstop Josh Smith said. “Hopefully we get to host and get a chance to play in Alex Box Stadium again. We’ll see how it goes.”
It promises not to be as anxious a wait for LSU as it might have looked at the start of this tournament. The Tigers run-ruling Mississippi State on Friday should have taken care of that. LSU’s RPI shot up five spots to No. 16 after beating the Bulldogs. Getting nearly run-ruled by Vandy (No. 2 in the RPI after slipping behind UCLA overnight Friday) shouldn’t be a drag on LSU’s chances very much considering the Commdores’ lofty status.
In fact, going into the game the Tigers (now 37-24) looked to be off the hosting bubble and less worried about results elsewhere according to two top national websites:
• D1Baseball.com: The website projected LSU as the No. 14 national seed, hosting Southern (the regional’s No. 4 seed), No. 2 Miami and No. 3 Southeastern Louisiana. The site paired the Baton Rouge regional with No. 3 national seed Mississippi State, setting up the prospect of even more drama-filled games between the Tigers and Bulldogs in Starkville in the super regional (LSU is 3-2 against State this season).
• BaseballAmerica.com: The venerable baseball publication’s site also had LSU as the No. 14 national seed, but with a regional paired against another bunch of SEC Bulldogs: Georgia. LSU lost two of three in Athens earlier this season. Baseball America had Baylor as the No. 2 seed in Baton Rouge, followed by No. 3 Florida State (with retiring Mike Martin, college baseball’s all-time winningest coach) and No. 4 McNeese State. The site had Southern going to Nashville, Tennessee, for Vanderbilt’s regional, though I’d be surprised if the Jaguars are playing anywhere but Alex Box or Starkville.
See the top three takeaways from LSU baseball's week at the SEC tournament.
Mainieri, who still stings from his team being left out of the NCAA tournament in 2011, wouldn’t give himself over to too much optimism about the Tigers’ chances to host.
“I’ll leave that to all the prognosticators,” he said. “As I’ve said many times, I’ve been in the game so long and dealt with the results of the selection committee … sometimes it’s positive, sometimes it’s negative. They have a tough job to do.
“But I hope we host. I would love to see us play in Alex Box Stadium next weekend in front of our great fans.”
What's LSU's Saul Garza's mantra for success?
That LSU could have done enough to get off the 16-seed line after where they were at the end of the Arkansas series two weeks ago — staring down a sweep and already riding a five-game losing streak — is remarkable. Since then, the Tigers are a solid 7-3 and back in control of much of their fate.
Have the men done enough? It sure seems like they have.
See you at the Box next weekend.
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