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“They’re The Next Team In Our Way”

You’re probably thinking about who will be in the visiting dugout more than LSU is.

Steve Franz / LSU Athletics

It’s too perfect not to happen, right?

Andy Cannizaro, the beloved hitting coach of the LSU Tigers, leaving in the middle of fall practice to take the head coaching job at LSU’s arch rivals Mississippi State. only to make his return to Baton Rouge in a Super Regional that very season.

“It’s almost like it was set-up,” senior outfielder and power bat Greg Deichmann admits. “Obviously it’s not but it’s just kinda destiny that it happened.”

Deichmann is right by calling it destiny, a word that is often used as a stand-in for mystical. It’s a storyline that is a hypothetical “what if” for six months because that’s all it could possibly be, since it’s too unrealistic to actually happen. It’s like hitting a walk off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth with two outs to win the World Series. It’s possible and it’s something that everybody thinks about, but it’s something nobody actually expects to happen.

Only it did. Or, rather it will. Cannizaro will lead his merry band of adidas-wearing ballplayers to Baton Rouge on Saturday night (Oh yeah, and they’re all night matchups in the Box. Small detail, that.) And it will be emotional. Will he be booed? Yeah he’ll definitely be booed, anybody who wears the interlocked MS logo in the third base dugout will always be booed in Baton Rouge. Will he be cheered? Probably. What will be louder, the malice-filled drunken boos or the polite appreciatory applause?

Good question.

A better question is how will he be received by his former players in the first base dugout?

Kramer Robertson has on multiple occasions this year credited Andy Cannizaro with turning his collegiate career around. But he also has kept a picture of Coastal Carolina dogpiling at his position in the field since a few days after it happened for motivation. He came back not only to go to Omaha, but to win the entire College World Series.

It’s pretty black and white for Robertson.

“They’re the next team in our way,” the senior shortstop said. “That’s how we’re approaching it. Regardless of who it is, that’s who is standing our way of getting to Omaha. They’re the enemy and we need to get two wins against them. We’ve been working all year to get to this point and now it doesn’t matter who it is.”

“Of course it had to happen this way. But Andy’s not going to throw any pitches or take any at-bats so it’s LSU vs. Mississippi State. We know they have good players and we’re familiar with them and they’re familiar with us. We’re just going to try and win a series and get to Omaha.”

“We’re excited,” said his counterpart at second Cole Freeman. “We’re excited to have him back and we’re excited to show him how much better we’ve gotten in the last two weeks. Bottom line is we have to go in there and we have to win two games.”

“It’s just another SEC series to us.”

It’s a sentiment that his head coach Paul Mainieri shares, if not a little more nuanced.

“There’s no avoiding it,” Mainieri said. “The series was huge whenever we went (to Starkville) two weeks ago because we knew whoever won the the series was going to win the SEC West and if we swept it could have potentially meant an SEC regular season championship. So I tried to divert the attention away from who their coach is and the fact that he was part of our staff just so the focus could be on the kids where it should be and what it meant. But it was unavoidable and I understand the storyline but I think we’ve already gotten it out of the way.”

“It happens to be Mississippi State and it happens to be coached by Andy Cannizaro, but they’re the ones that are standing in our way to get to Omaha and keep us from accomplishing our goals. It doesn’t matter who we play, we just want to win.”

When asked about it in the press conference following the Southern Miss game, Cannizaro offered a different, slightly more telling outlook on this weekend’s super regional

And about having to beat Mississippi State five times in one season? Mainieri doesn’t see it that way.

“We don’t need to beat them five times,” Mainieri explained. “We need to beat them twice. What we’ve already done is ancient history, those games don’t count anymore. The significance of those three games was apparent at that time and we were fortunate enough to be successful. And because of that, we get a couple of trophies for our trophy case.

By the way, Robertson said if LSU does win this weekend, his phone background will finally change.

“I hope it changes. I’m tired of looking at it, it still makes me sick every time I look at it.”