Tuesday can't come soon enough

OMAHA, Neb. — Paul Mainieri knows that the College World Series is a carnival that takes some getting used to. He just has to recall his first trip to Omaha as a coach, back in 2002 with Notre Dame. You can try to tell yourself these games are just like all those other games. But they aren't.

The parking lots here are full two hours before games, smoke wafting off the grills, vendors and scalpers on every street corner, funnel cakes going for $4.50.


More than 22,000 fans cram into the seats, beach balls getting batted around behind the outfield fences, an organ bouncing tunes in the background. And there are those ESPN cameras, always present.


All of this can distract a team, especially one made up of players new to the experience.


That’s how it was for LSU Sunday night, a team of guys dipping their toes into the CWS waters for the first time. The final result was an 8-4 loss to North Carolina and a Tuesday date with an elimination game against Rice.


Still, Mainieri wore a look of optimism after the loss.


“I expect that the kids, now that they have a game under their belts, will play with much more confidence and much more looseness,” Mainieri said.


Though the CWS is new to all the LSU players, having their backs to the wall is not. They only have to look back to last week when they were three outs from elimination in the super regional against Cal-Irvine to find inspiration.


LSU rallied then. It’ll be tougher now. The Tigers will have to win four games to get into the best-of-three national championship series. Had they defeated UNC, they would have had to win just the next two to be playing for it all.


So what is their approach now?     


“You can’t win the tournament in one game. It’s so hard to beat these teams because they’re so good,” Mainieri said. “We’ve trained the kids to just think one game at a time. That’s all they’re thinking about. They’re so anxious to get back out there on that field again.”


The coach said LSU will likely start right-hander Jared Bradford for Tuesday's 1 p.m. contest, though Mainieri said that’s not a 100-percent certainty.


“We’re going to wake up (Monday), the sun’s going to be out. We’re going to get out to practice, get ourselves in a positive frame of mind and get after Rice on Tuesday," Mainieri said. "You got to get the job done or it’s over.”


The Tigers are playing a Rice team that spent its Sunday afternoon being humbled by Fresno State, the final score 17-5. The Owls used seven pitchers. The Tigers used six.


Rice had previously been unbeaten in this year’s postseason. But at one point Sunday, the Owls trailed Fresno State 16-1.


“Fresno State did an incredible job hitting the ball,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said. “It’s hard to hit the ball that hard in batting practice.”


It's been that kind of wacky tournament so far, some powerful programs stuck in the loser brackets. Besides LSU and Rice, Miami and Florida State also suffered first-day setbacks.


That just shows you how tough it is to win here in Omaha, Mainieri said.         


“This is an awesome tournament. Everybody here is really good. All eight teams, I think, are outstanding ballclubs,” he said. “In today’s day and age of college baseball, believe me, anybody can beat anybody on a given day. It’s just a matter of how you play. The teams that won deserved to win. The teams that lost have to pick themselves up and get ready for Monday and Tuesday. That’s what we’re going to do.”

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