LSU baseball team awaits NCAA?Tournament announcement

Dave Moormann
LSU pitcher Ryan Eades winds up to throw.

If the LSU baseball team fails to make the NCAA Tournament, it has only itself to blame.

The Tigers enjoyed a fast start and a strong finish to the regular season but in between left something to be desired.

LSU endured an 8-16 stretch between March 18-April 24 when it seemingly played its way out of a postseason appearance.

But just when it looked as if the Tigers were through, they caught fire again and made a strong case for an at-large berth when NCAA bids are announced Monday, May 30.

The Tigers won 12 of their last 15 games, and only a 6-5 setback to Mississippi State in the penultimate regular-season game prevented LSU from making this week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament.

It’s rare to reach the NCAA Tournament without a conference tournament appearance, but if any team can do it, LSU is the one.

The Tigers have as much tradition as any team in the country, which wasn’t the case in 1984 when they were hoping for an NCAA bid with less than stellar records.

In Skip Bertman’s first year as coach, LSU fashioned regular-season marks of 32-23 overall and 12-12 in the SEC. The Tigers of today are 36-20 and 13-17.

Two things have changed. First, college baseball, and the SEC in particular, are much more competitive. LSU’s losing SEC record this year still is more impressive than a .500 ledger from more than a quarter century ago.

Bertman was the catalyst in transforming the dynamics of college baseball. In elevating LSU to superstar status, he brought along the game, itself. There is much more quality parity even since his retirement after the 2000 season.

Secondly, LSU has a tradition that can’t be ignored. The Tigers have six national titles to their credit, including its last one in 2009 under current coach Paul Mainieri.

No less than Mississippi State coach John Cohen believes LSU should be in the 64-team NCAA field.

“My goodness, if they’re not one of the best 64 teams in the country, I need to eat this piece of paper here,” Cohen was quoted as saying while waving a copy of the box score from Mississippi State’s lone victory in a three-game set. “LSU, for me, they‘re in the field of 64.”

The Tigers likely will make the tournament, but their chance to host a regional seems all but dead. The NCAA is all about money, and any tournament featuring LSU at home is bound to be a financial bonanza.

Still, in all, it’s hard to justify giving LSU such a profound home field advantage since it couldn’t even make the SEC Tournament after having won it for three consecutive years.

If the Tigers were to play at Alex Box Stadium, they would be no better than a No. 4 seed. Then, again, even on the road, LSU might have to settle for being seeded last in a four-team field.

Whatever the case, LSU should be glad it makes it in at all. The Tigers couldn’t sustain an opening act that saw them win 16 of their first 17 games, with all but the last one at home.

LSU struggled to win on the road but now must do so if it expects to advance to a Super Regional. No doubt the Tigers need better late-game pitching to do so. They lost seven one-run games, including the setback to Mississippi State, which came from behind to earn a spot in the SEC Tournament.

LSU also must continue to get clutch hitting, particularly from junior outfielder Mikie Mahtook, who leads the SEC in home runs (14), triples (five), slugging percentage (.715) total bases (138) and steals (29).

LSU can’t win consistently without some measure of production from Mahtook, who is hitting .383 with 59 runs batted in and 59 runs scored.

LSU would like to see Mahtook in action one more time this year before he likely turns pro.