Few of the gathered Tigers at Monday’s selection show viewing party reacted at all when the brackets for the 2019 NCAA Baseball Championships came out in full, but surely those watching at home might’ve reacted like the two Louisiana natives turned LSU infielders.
One seed LSU, host of the Baton Rouge regional and the No. 13 overall national seed.
Versus fourth-seeded Stony Brook, America East Conference Tournament Champions and quondam conquerors of LSU, some seven years back in Baton Rouge, when the Seawolves took two of three from the Tigers in the 2012 Super Regionals.
In a draw ripe-to-bursting with storylines, few, if any, are as intriguing.
Storylines are great for writers, but matter little to coaches.
“As soon as I saw our first opponent’s name up there, it was going to bring back a lot of thoughts about 2012,” head coach Paul Mainieri said. “In all honesty, this year has nothing to do with 2012. This is a completely different year, and we are a completely different team and they are a completely different team. We just have to get ready to play, I don’t care who the opponent is.”
Seven years ago, Broussard – among the team’s oldest players – was just 15. Dugas, among its youngest, was a mere 12 years old. How many of the current crop of Tigers even recall that series is anyone’s guess, but it’d be hard to fill a lineup card with any who could recall more than the most basic of details.
Antoine Duplantis recalls the game, because he was good friends with then-first baseman Tyler Moore, whose 10th-inning homer in game one helped the Tigers win the first matchup of the series.
“You see a name like Stony Brook that not many people from the South have heard of. Then you watch them play,” Duplantis says. “It’s different players now than it was then, but they had a first-rounder or two, a guy that’s in the big leagues now, a bunch of good players.
“My freshman year we played Coastal Carolina, a team that I never really had heard of until they came here. They won the Super Regional and won the national championship. You can never take anything lightly. You have to expect that they’re going to all be great teams, especially if they made the tournament in the first place.”
ONE MORE GO
Duplantis enters the weekend three hits shy of tying, and four hits shy of breaking, Eddy Furniss’ career tally, a school record since 1998. Entering the SEC Tournament last week, LSU expected it would need at least two wins to solidify an opportunity to host a regional – giving Duplantis a shot to break the record in Baton Rouge.
Three wins later, that possibility still exists.
“I texted Antoine last night,” Mainieri said, “and I said, ‘I’m so happy for you that you get to play in the Box again.’ His response to me was, ‘I am too, now let’s go win it.’ Nothing was said about Eddy Furniss’ record or anything else. He just wants to win.”
Duplantis spent the last few weeks of the regular season drinking in his trips back and forth to Alex Box Stadium, never knowing if he’d play there again. Monday, from the Champions Club inside the Box, he smiled an ear-to-ear grin when he talked about the chance to get another couple of games at home.
“I’m glad and very fortunate I get another opportunity to play at the Box,” he said. “I’m going to savor every game and play like it’s my last, because it could be.”
At his current clip of 1.3 hits per game (81 in 61 games), Duplantis could, if he stays on pace, break the record by Sunday – perhaps as LSU clinches the regional, should they be so fortunate.
That’s Mainieri’s bet, at least.
“I’m going to go out on a limb,” Mainieri joked, laughing the whole answer. “If we are lucky enough to win this regional, Antoine Duplantis will have at least four hits this weekend. Because if he doesn’t get at least four hits, I don’t think we have a chance to win. He’s just that important to our team.”
MOMENTUM ON THE MOUND
Asked if he liked LSU’s momentum going into the regional, Mainieri offered a baseball aphorism to support the idea that the Tigers do, in fact, have some momentum in hand.
“Momentum is only as good as tomorrow’s starting pitcher. So to answer the question with that basis, yes, I think we have momentum,” he said. “I think our starting pitching has got me excited.”
That includes freshman Landon Marceaux, who has dazzled in his last six outings, sporting a 2.48 ERA in nearly 30 innings of work. That also includes freshman ace Cole Henry, who made his first appearance in a month to open the SEC Tournament. Though he gave up five runs in 1.2 innings, Maineri left optimistic with his progression from elbow soreness that had sidelined him.
“Marceaux is throwing like a seasoned veteran now,” Mainieri said. “Cole Henry is back healthy now, and I think he’s going to be much better than he was his first time out. I don’t think he threw the ball poorly at all. He just had a little trouble getting a feel for his curveball, so he was using his fastball a little more than he probably would, and they were able to hit some.
“I think Eric Walker will get himself straightened out this week with a good week of practice. I think we have momentum because I think we have a good rotation.”
Mainieri said both Broussard and Trent Vietmeier could be available this weekend.
Broussard missed Saturday’s semifinal in Hoover with an elbow injury, but Mainieri said the training staff indicated it’s likely a muscular issue that could get better in time for the weekend.
Vietmeier, meanwhile, has not pitched since May 10 at Arkansas with a sore shoulder.
“He’s been playing catch the whole week in Hoover,” Mainieri said. “He was on schedule. You would not have known he had the diagnosis he had, which leads me to believe it may have been a previous injury.”
Mainieri is less optimistic on freshman pitcher Jaden Hill, saying “I doubt that’s going to happen” when asked about a possible return.