Will 2009 be the year?

Five titles in a decade left an unforgettable taste in the mouths of the LSU faithful – one that fans hope head coach Paul Mainieri can bring back to the Bayou. When his club swept through the Baton Rouge Regional this past weekend, the reality that 2009 could be the year began to sink in.

As center fielder Mikie Mahtook gloved the final out of the May 24 Southeastern Conference Tournament title game against Vanderbilt, the Tigers took to the routine dog pile on the pitcher’s mound.

After taking five straight games following an opening night loss to the Commodores, the celebration seemed as warranted as any.

Yet, when those same Tigers swept through Southern, Baylor and Minnesota en route to taking the Baton Rouge Regional crown this past weekend, there was no celebration to be had.

They shook hands, huddled up and shuffled out for their victory lap for the Tiger faithful.

No outlandish celebrations – certainly nothing to the extent of what was seen in Hoover.

“Just because we didn’t dog pile does not mean that we are not excited about this victory,” Mainieri said. “Obviously, we are very excited to have won the regional and get a chance to advance to the next level.”

That latter part of the skipper’s statement – where he addressed advancing to the next level – seems to be the words that hold the most weight.

Mainieri would go on to stress that the weekend was not about the Regional title, but rather “taking five games.”

Freshman Austin Nola has been a huge addition to the Tiger infield

“Three down, two to go.”

Those were his words, of course.

With the Tiger bats lagging – (gasp) not to mention what happens when they run into a southpaw – the pitching staff was forced to step up on the biggest stage the new Alex Box Stadium had seen.

Austin Ross, Anthony Ranaudo and Louis Coleman – who threw a combined 22.4 innings and allowed just four earned runs – had never looked better.

Micah Gibbs, who has spent his entire sophomore campaign behind the plate, was left speechless as he walked off the field Sunday night.

“They have been doing it all year for us, but they way they did it in the Regional was awesome,” he said. “It definitely takes a lot of pressure off the hitters.”

Struggles at the plate – highlighted by the Tigers’ three combined runs through the opening six frames of both the Southern and Baylor games – seems to be the early favorite for the squads’ Achilles heel come Omaha … if Omaha comes.

Yet, batting .315 as a team – third best in the SEC – the Tigers look solid on paper. In fact, Mainieri’s squad is among the top three teams in nearly every offensive stat column in the conference.

Still, hitting in the clutch – which the Tiger skipper has stressed since day one – remains the one area that bats have not seemed to put their mark on.

So, when the Tigers bounced out for seven runs through the opening three frames of Sunday’s Regional final against Minnesota, starting pitcher Louis Coleman said that he was more confident than ever.

“There was never any doubt in my mind that the guys behind me would do their work. We just had to stay patient.”

Confidence, it seems, is at a premium in the LSU clubhouse.

With Rice on the docket for the weekend, will Mainieri’s bunch grab the final two pieces of the headman’s five-step plan?

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