BATON ROUGE – The way to get to the College World Series, former LSU coach Skip Bertman used to say before he ever took LSU to Omaha, Nebraska, is to host NCAA Regionals.
The way to get a NCAA Regional is to win, he’d say and do. And once you get a NCAA Regional, if you fill up Alex Box Stadium, you’ll get another one, he said. And another one … and another one.
And that’s what has happened over and over. The Tigers are currently hosting their 25th NCAA Regional tournament this weekend and were scheduled to play Southeastern Louisiana Saturday night after beating Texas Southern, 15-7, in the opener Friday.
“Obviously, your chances of advancing are greater when you get to play in your ballpark that you’re familiar with and with your fans rooting for you,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who is hosting his eighth NCAA Regional since becoming coach in 2007 and bidding for his fifth trip to Omaha with the Tigers.
If LSU wins this NCAA Regional, it will play the winner of the NCAA Regional in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, next weekend in Alex Box in a best-of-three Super Regional. The Super Regional was added in 1999 to the NCAA postseason format, which used to have a single six-team regional instead of the four-team Regional, two-team Super.
“You get to sleep in your own bed, and you don’t have to worry about traveling and getting tired from that stuff,” Mainieri said.
LSU’s run to be safe at home for the postseason all started in 1986. The Tigers won the SEC and the SEC Tournament in Bertman’s third season and hosted their first NCAA Regional. And they also reached Omaha for the first time, just like Bertman said.
Soon, LSU was a college baseball brand name synonymous with “NCAA Regional host site” and “College World Series participant.” The Tigers hosted a NCAA Regional every year from 1990 through 2001 and reached Omaha eight times over that span under Bertman, who won five national championships from 1991-2000. LSU kept hosting under Coach Smoke Laval from 2002-05 and reached Omaha twice. The tradition continued under Coach Paul Mainieri in 2008 and 2009 with two Omaha appearances, including the ’09 national championship. And Mainieri is currently on a streak of six straight home NCAA Regionals from 2012-17 and eight overall with four CWS appearances.
“That’s all I know and all the guys on the team know is finishing strong so you can host a regional,” LSU senior shortstop Kramer Robertson said.
In all, LSU has reached Omaha 17 times beginning in 1986 with 16 of those coming out Alex Box Stadium. The only time LSU ever reached Omaha out of the Box was in 1989 when it advanced from a NCAA Regional at Texas A&M. From 1986 through 2017 so far, the Tigers are 81-17 in NCAA Regional games at home for a dominant .826 winning percentage. Of the previous 24 home NCAA Regionals, LSU has won 20 with the only losses in 1992, ’95, 2005 and 2014.
“One guy after another each year comes through and represents this program well,” Robertson said. “We continue to do it, and it’s something special to be a part of. That’s all we know – finishing strong and making it to Omaha.”
And if you don’t make it to Omaha as LSU did not last year, you put off your life.
Robertson and fellow seniors second baseman Cole Freeman and pitcher Jared Poche all put off pro baseball after being selected in the Major League Baseball draft a year ago to return to LSU. So did Greg Deichmann, who was a draft eligible sophomore last year. Why? The express purpose of reaching Omaha.
That’s the case every year, but Mainieri has noticed it more with this veteran team.
“I almost don’t even have to talk to them. I don’t really have to motivate them. Deichmann, Freeman, Kramer, Poche – they’ve taken ownership of the team,” Mainieri said.
“Omaha is what this season is all about,” Freeman said.
But it starts with the NCAA Regional.
“It never really hits you until it’s here,” Deichmann said. “You see the NCAA Regional posters everywhere. The crowd’s rocking, and the postseason atmosphere comes alive. There’s nothing like it.”
It's almost GEAUX TIME! The Tigers and Lions square off SOON at The Box! Let's Geaux! pic.twitter.com/gtkHI2dyWT— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) June 3, 2017