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Better Know a Regional: LSU

Forget the other teams. This regional is about LSU.

Here we are again, at the start of yet another postseason. This is usually the time I write up another Better Know a Regional but Adam got all excited this year and he’s pretty much deep dived into every team.

I guess I could preview the weather. It’s gonna rain. So we could crack some jokes about the tarp crew and consider how their hard work will make them the true MVP’s this weekend. No joke. You haul that heavy covering on and off the field multiple times.

Consider ourselves properly previewed and instead take a step back for a quick second and talk about expectations and the postseason in general.

When Kramer Robertson and Cole Freeman came back for their senior seasons, the goal was simple: LSU had its sights set on the national title. Let’s not duck from high expectations. High expectations are a good thing, and a sign of just how much this program has thrived, even post-Skip. We don’t even really celebrate trips to Omaha, just national titles.

This has resulted in some grumblings about the job Paul Mainieri has done here. I’m not innocent of this either, as I’ve written my share of criticisms about his bullpen management. However, let’s take a step back to appreciate what a tremendous job he has done.

Baseball programs do not sustain themselves. Miami finally missing the tournament this year shows that time eventually catches everyone. The juggernaut at South Carolina has missed the tournament in two consecutive seasons. Former dynasties have slowly washed away like USC, Stanford, and Texas. Yet LSU remains as a national power.

That’s a credit to the job Paul Mainieri has done. In an era of far more parity than in Bertman’s day, LSU routinely earns a national seed and competes for national titles. It’s high time we acknowledge how difficult that accomplishment has been.

And it’s not like he’s all that far off from Skip. Bertman went to his first College World Series in 1986. Over the next eight seasons, he made six trips to Omaha, and won two titles. Mainieri made his first CWS in 2008, and in the same eight season time frame, he made four trips to Omaha and won one title.

Sure, Bertman’s record is better, but it’s not galaxies apart. And let’s consider two factors: ONE, there’s a lot more competition these days and TWO, he was Skip f’n Bertman. If the biggest knock on a coach is he doesn’t quite measure up to literally the greatest coach in the history of the sport, then maybe our standards are a wee bit high.

Also, Paul’s teams have been just as good, yet bedeviled in the postseason. Skip’s all-time winning percentage was .724. Paul’s? .719.

From 1984-2001, Skip’s entire tenure, LSU won 7 SEC regular season titles and 6 SEC tournaments. Mainieri has coached from 2007 to the present, about half the time as Skip, and he has 4 regular season and 6 conference tournament titles.

However, Skip did set the standard: win in Omaha. Mainieri has been nearly as good as Skip, but success in Omaha has eluded, save for the 2009 team. This team is the very best LSU team since that 2009 championship team. This is Mainieri’s best chance to silence the boo birds for a year or two anyway.

LSU has a deep lineup and most importantly, it has a killer one-two punch at the top of its rotation plus a reliable third starter which this program has often lacked. He’s got a relief ace to get him out of tight late-innings jams as well. And they are playing their best baseball right now.

The draw could not be more favorable. SLU ranks 26th in the RPI and Rice ranks 36th. Both are pretty good teams, but neither are considered good bets for Omaha, even if they weren’t in the Baton Rouge Regional. SLU is a two-seed most thought would get a three, and Rice is a three-seed that was considered a longshot to make the tournament at all until conference tournament play began.

This postseason won’t determine Paul Mainieri’s legacy. It’s already built over time, and his continued record of success. He has sustained success while other great programs have slowly faded back into the pack. Still, a title this season would be the ultimate validation not just of the coach, but of the LSU program post-Skip.

We are always going to demand not just trips to Omaha, but success when we get there. High expectations are a good thing for a program. And expectations have never been higher for this team than this year. It’s time to fulfill them.