BATON ROUGE, La. -- Post season baseball is back at the Box, and it feels just right.
“We deserved to be in the field last year,” said LSU head coach Paul Mainieri. “I remember meeting with you guys after the show that we just had. It wasn't a very pleasant experience to do that. I don't ever want to feel that again.”
And it's because Mainieri's Tigers left nothing to chance that they're a national seed and hosting their 20th regional this weekend
In town will be ULM, Oregon State and Belmost, three teams that the Tigers should be able to handle with relative ease.
But, then again, this is baseball, where every team is a hot pitcher away from an upset. That will no doubt be the Warhawks' approach to beating LSU on Friday.
“They're gonna have a chip on their shoulder,” said LSU shortstop Austin Nola. “Every team that comes in here to play us, we can't take them lightly at all. We're not looking ahead, looking at the present. It's a game we're going to have to get through.”
“We’re the team everybody circles on their schedule. Tulane, ULM, ULL, they want to come in and beat us," said LSU first baseman Mason Katz. "I’m friends with a lot of the guys, playing high school ball. They always text me when they're coming in, say we wanna beat you. … Going to be a very tough regional.”
It's an especially anxious moment for the nation’s best hitter, Raph Rhymes, who grew up in Monroe.
“I know quite a few of them, played high school ball and junior college ball against them, so it'll be fun,” he said.
The next big step for Mainieri: who will get the game one start on the mound?
He said it's a decision that he'll make Tuesday, but star pitcher Kevin Gausman said he'd love to get the call to open the tournament.
“As a competitor I definitely want to pitch the first game. Any game coach tells me to pitch in, it's huge. You don't want to lose a game and go into the loser’s bracket,” he said.
Gausman or Aaron Nola -- it's a good problem for the Tigers to have.