Sunday’s extra-innings win over Alabama sealed the Tigers third-straight Southeastern Conference Tournament crown.
More importantly, it gave a team that closed the regular season with a 4-14 record something to be excited about.
It had been a while, maybe dating back to last season, since the Tiger pitching staff had seen a string of starts highlighted by arms lasting deep into games.
With the bats bringing in a combined 25 runs across the first three games, confidence after Sunday evening’s dogpile was back to where it was when the Tigers were 32-6 and headed to Oxford in late-April.
“On the way home from Hoover we were all pretty pumped up,” said Anthony Ranaudo, who closed the game against Alabama after the second rain delay of the day. “It was what we needed after how things finished. We kind of let loose and enjoyed it.”
Less than 24 hours later, it’s back to business.
The team gathered in the Champion’s Club at Alex Box Stadium just before noon on Monday for lunch and a viewing party.
Each television was tuned to one station, and that station brought news that the Tiger players had been briefed on by coach Paul Mainieri just prior to their arrival.
So when the NCAA Selection Show announced that LSU would travel to the Los Angeles Regional as a No. 2 seed, there wasn’t a word spoken.
For the first time since 1989, and the only time during the NCAA’s double-elimination, four-team regional round, the Tigers will pack their bags and head away from Baton Rouge.
For the defending National Champions, who hosted both a regional and super regional during their 2009 run to Omaha, the news that they would travel nearly 2,000 miles to play postseason baseball wasn’t ideal.
As for Mainieri’s take?
“I feel like we got what we deserved,” he said. “If we would have done a better job in the last month of the season then we maybe would have been able to play here at home. We have to take it like men and go out there and get the job done.”
After the seeding announcements were made Mainieri addressed his team for the second time, but with the same message.
This team, no matter the destination and opponents, would take the hand they were dealt and make the most of it.
“If you think about it this way, you’ll take it as a unique and interesting challenge,” Mainieri said. “I was a little worried about their reaction, so I lined it up for them. If they accept it mentally and like the challenge, you have half the battle beat.”
The Tigers will open play on Friday with UC-Irvine, the same team that LSU topped to reach Omaha during the 2008 Baton Rouge Super Regional. UCLA, the No. 6 national seed, faces Kent State.
Tentative game times are 4 p.m. CST for LSU-UC Irvine and 8 p.m. CST for UCLA-Kent State, then 4 and 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. If the weekend goes to a seventh game, it will be played Monday at 8 p.m.
“It’s not going to be an easy trip,” Mainieri said. “It’s a long trip across the country and we are going to be playing some outstanding teams. Everyone around here knows about Irvine from our Super Regional a couple of years ago, and UCLA is an up-and-coming program with a great coach and some great arms.”
Matched with the Cal State Fullerton Regional for Super Regional play beginning June 11th, a stretch of wins could keep the Tigers in California until Omaha.
“I have said many times in the last month that the story for 2010 has not been written yet,” Mainieri said. “Maybe we should pack big and stay out there a couple of weeks.”