Little did they know, though, that the Tigers were about to roll off nine more consecutive wins and get rewarded with a No. 7 national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
That is exactly what Paul Mainieri’s young but very talented group of players have done and late Monday morning they received the good news that their path to Omaha is quite simple. Win at home for two weekends in a row and they are Omaha bound.
“Before the year one of the big storylines was that this was the last year in the old Alex Box Stadium,” Mainieri said. “I felt it was very appropriate that we send the old lady out in the right way and that was with post-season play here. I know it looked very bleak there for a while but I felt we could get it done.”
The way the Tigers have gotten to the point they are at and the feat of earning the 18th regional host at Alex Box is one of the most remarkable runs in LSU history.
The 1997 team that went on to win the national championship won its first 19 games of the season and got hot again late in the year but for this current group of Tigers to roll off 20 consecutive victories that included nine wins against teams ranked in the Top 25 and 16 come from behind wins then this is truly a time to remember.
“I always felt that we were one hit away or one pitch away,” said Mainieri. “I told our players before that Tulane game that we were going to beat Tulane and go on a roll right after that and I reminded them of that right after the game. I could not have predicted 20 in a row but I just felt that our team was going to start playing better and our confidence continued to grow. I think that is why we are playing better.”
The improvement this LSU club made from Paul Mainieri’s first season to now speaks volumes about the job that he and his staff have done and all it takes is one look at a few numbers to realize that.
The Tigers made drastic improvements at the plate under the guidance of hitting coach Cliff Godwin by raising their team batting average from .256 to .304 and nearly doubling the homerun production from 40 to 79.
On the mound, pitching coach Terry Rooney took a group of young guys and shaved the Team ERA down from 5.10 to 3.89 and his guys yielded 45 fewer hits from a year ago in 54 more innings pitched.
The Tigers also did it in the field as the 2008 squad committed 28 fewer errors and when you factor everything in the end result is 14 more wins, 10 fewer losses and an SEC Tournament Championship with much more to play for.
“When you are in a management position the number one rule to be successful is to surround yourself with good people,” said Mainieri. “I’ve surrounded myself with a great coaching staff and we’ve recruited some wonderful young men to come into the program. To me, success was inevitable and I never doubted it.”
For the Tigers to play host to their fourth Super Regional they must get through a bracket that includes No. 2 seed Southern Miss, with UNO and Texas Southern seeded third and fourth, respectively.
The Tigers are familiar with two of the three teams in their bracket and according to Mainieri they have the utmost respect for everyone involved with the Baton Rouge Regional.
“We had three tremendous ballgames with them (UNO) this year and all three were decided in the last at-bat,” said Mainieri. “There is no question that we have the utmost respect for them and they are going to be a tremendous challenge.
“I think the job that Corky Palmer has done at Southern Miss has been phenomenal,” added Mainieri. “I’m sure Southern Miss is going to come in and let it rip and be a tough team. I don’t know as much about Texas Southern but I’m going to obviously get to studying them. I think it’s going to be a very exciting regional.”
Waiting on the other side of the bracket as a potential opponent for the Super Regional are the top seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers, along with UC Irvine, Oral Robert and Eastern IIlinois.
Looking ahead is something that fans and sportswriters have the luxury of doing but you will not see Mainieri or the nationally seeded Tigers looking past their 1 p.m. Friday showdown with Texas Southern.
“The national seed is good only if we get past the first round,” said LSU’s skipper. “Now, we know we’re a national seed and it’s there and in place our focus is going to be on taking care of business this weekend. If we don’t take of business then being a national seed means absolutely nothing.”