BATON ROUGE, La. — If it seems the LSU baseball team often plays its best late in the season, that’s not an accident.
“When history tells us that you’re going to play your best ball at the end of the year, that’s your goal,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said Monday. “If you want to win a national championship, you better be playing your best at the end of the year.”
Heading into the SEC Tournament, which began Tuesday in Hoover, Ala., LSU is doing just that. Winners of seven consecutive games and 12 of their past 14, the Tigers (39-17, 21-9 SEC) are the hottest team this side of Corvallis, Ore.
LSU pitching is clicking. Mainieri said he’s never seen ace junior Alex Lange pitch as well as he has over the past three weeks. LSU hitting is clicking. The Tigers had 9 or more runs in four of their past five games. And the projections support what’s been happening on the field. LSU crept up to No. 8 in the RPI after back-to-back SEC sweeps of Auburn and Mississippi State.
Eight might be the most important number in college baseball this time of year. LSU shored up the right to be an NCAA Regional host next week, as the Tigers should breeze in as a top-16 team. But finishing the top 8, earning a national seed with the right to be host for both a Regional and a Super Regional? That’s what LSU’s fighting for.
And Mainieri thinks that’s a possibility, with or without the SEC Tournament.
“We’re in pretty good position to be a national seed,” he said. “You never know, however, what the committee is thinking or what they’re going to decide, so you’d like to take any question out of it. A good run at the SEC Tournament would solidify a national seed.”
Even before a sweep of Mississippi State and winning an SEC West regular-season title, the experts at D1Baseball.com projected LSU as a national seed. The same can’t be said of those at Baseball America, who had the Tigers ninth in their most recent projections.
History suggests it would be borderline unprecedented for LSU not to earn a national seed. Since college baseball adopted the Super Regional format in 1999, only one SEC regular-season champion or co-champion didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament as a national seed. Given the strength of the SEC in 2017 — as many as nine conference teams could qualify in the Field of 64 — there’s little reason to think the trend won’t continue.
Still, LSU can’t go two-and-out in the SEC Tournament and expect to help its cause. When the Tigers open play Wednesday, a win over Texas A&M or Missouri would go a long way toward solidifying its standing. And that shouldn’t be too hard, given LSU baseball’s success in Hoover in the Mainieri era.
— Todd Politz (@tpolitz) May 22, 2017
Or, as Lange puts it, possibly paraphrasing Frank Sinatra, the best is yet to come.
“I have been saying it all year our best baseball is in front of us,” Lange said. “We are peaking at the right time, and playing our best baseball when it matters.”