Staying in the winner's bracket is absolutely vital when it comes to winning an NCAA Regional. No team that lost its opening game in 2013 advanced to the next round, so LSU certainly avoided trouble by rallying to an 8-4 win against Southeastern Louisiana.
A loss in either of the first two games forces a team to win four out of the loser's bracket, a stiff test for anybody's pitching staff.
Paul Mainieri won't hide his relief that LSU got a Game 1 win, but he also won't let his players think they've already accomplished their goal.
"The game tomorrow starts at 0-0, and we're going to be playing another outstanding ball club," Mainieri said. "We're going to have to strap it on and play nine good innings."
Though a win's not guaranteed, it might as well be considering LSU trots out Aaron Nola for the all-important Game 2. A victory Saturday would put the Tigers one win away from a Super Regional, and you have to like their chances with the SEC Pitcher of the Year on the mound.
LSU lost only one game this season that Nola started.
"He's the best pitcher in the country," said leadoff man Mark Laird. "You don't need much to win with him on the mound."
Though Mainieri toyed with the idea of sending out Nola for the opener, he couldn't deny taking advantage of having Nola throw Game 2. And when you also consider that LSU pulled out a win Friday without using Joe Broussard or Kurt McCune, and that pitching staff is sitting pretty at this stage in the tournament.
Nola's certainly happy that his start Saturday won't come in an elimination game.
"It feels a lot better [after a win]," Nola said. "We only have to win two more, and having this win takes a lot of pressure off our shoulders.
FURY GETS HIS CHANCE TO CLOSE
Nate Fury worked a perfect eighth inning Friday, and once LSU jumped ahead, Mainieri told him he was coming out of the game.
He planned to turn to his closer Joe Broussard to get the save, but then lead went from one to two to four and Mainieri decided to keep Fury out there.
"It's a difficult thing to tell a kid he's out then a few minutes later tell him he's still in," Mainieri said. "I looked him in the eye and asked if he'd shut it down mentally, but he said he's fine."
Three outs away from a victory, the crowd started to jazz up. With Alex Box coming to life, Fury admitted he let the adrenaline get to him a little bit.
His first two pitches in the ninth crashed off the backstop.
"Those two pitches scared me a little bit," Fury said. "I was a little wild."
Fury reeled it in though. He peppered those 94-95 mph fastballs in the zone and got a lineout to center, a strikeout and a pop fly to end the game.
Fury said he'd been to a number of postseason games at Alex Box while growing up. So closing out a win himself was a dream come true.
"It felt good," Fury said. "It was the greatest crowd, a fun atmosphere and a good win."
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE
LSU has never lost the opening game of a regional at Alex Box Stadium, and Friday's victory extended that streak to 22 games. When a place holds the moniker "Cathedral of College Baseball," it has a reputation to live up to, and the crowd Friday certainly did.
Though attendance numbers were down significantly throughout the season, the fans came in droves to see the Tigers kick off their tournament campaign.
"I was so happy to see the crowd today. They might have been mad at me for playing at 2 p.m., but they didn't show it. They were a big part of the game. The atmosphere was phenomenal and they really inspired us to go on.
The players feed off that energy, and they made sure to credit the fans for contributing to the win.
"The crowd is just a huge advantage for us," said senior Sean McMullen. "You do see a difference this time of year, and it gives an extra edge to get the job done for sure."