Rematch: Maineri vs. Cannizaro Part II is on with Omaha on the line

BATON ROUGE - So far, all we have from Mississippi State coach Andy Cannizaro about his former boss, LSU coach Paul Mainieri, going into their series rematch Saturday night in the NCAA Super Regional at Alex Box Stadium is an animated smiley face emoji on Twitter rolling its eyes.

That was Cannizaro's response to a tweet by a sportswriter covering LSU that mentioned that Mainieri did not mention Cannizaro by name in a postgame press conference at the Southeastern Conference Tournament last month. Not exactly a war of words.

"When we had the coach leave in November," Mainieri said while discussing new hitting coach Micah Gibbs.

Later at the same press conference, Mainieri said, "Micah's obviously got a different style than the previous hitting coach."

The previous hitting coach's style is obviously working. Cannizaro, who was LSU's hitting coach and recruiting coordinator in the 2015 and '16 seasons, has Mississippi State (40-25) two wins away from reaching the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, despite a host of injuries to pitchers that has him using position players in the weekend rotation.

The best-of-three Super Regional begins at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2 at Alex Box Stadium. The second game will be at 8 p.m. Sunday on an ESPN channel to be named. If a Monday game is necessary, that time and channel will be announced on Sunday night.

The Bulldogs contended for the SEC West and regular season titles until the last weekend when LSU took both away from them with a three-game sweep in Starkville, Mississippi, in the last weekend of Dudy Noble Field and the infamous Left Field Lounge as we know it before a major renovation. State was then eliminated from the SEC Tournament after two wins with two straight losses.

A third consecutive loss, 6-3 to South Alabama, followed in the opener of the NCAA Regional at Hattiesburg, Mississippi, last weekend. Then, somehow, Cannizaro, an intense motivator and players' coach, managed to get his team to win four games in two days to oust host No. 1 seed Southern Mississippi and reach Baton Rouge.

"I love where we are as a team right now," Cannizaro said. "Having to win four games in two days against outstanding competition speaks volumes for where our guys are at right now. The resiliency of each and every player that we have and just the heart that they take the field with each and every day. These guys are so much fun to be around. Every single day at the field is a blast. They're ready to play, excited for the opportunity and challenge of going to LSU this weekend."

LSU, meanwhile, has lost two games since April 26 as it is 19-2 over that stretch with 14 straight wins.

"You're going to play an outstanding LSU team with the opportunity to go to the College World Series," Cannizaro said. "So, let's go play. Let's go get it on, and I like our chances."

At least, Mainieri referred to Cannizaro in some way. Cannizaro has not mentioned Mainieri by name and barely referred to him since the week leading up to the regular season series. And Mainieri did give Cannizaro his first shot at coaching after six years as a scout with the New York Yankees, whom he played for during one season on the Major League level in 2006 after a spectacular career at shortstop for Tulane from 1998-2001.

He was asked about him directly on Baton Rouge radio station 104.5 FM this week.

"I sure hope we'd play it down," Cannizaro said. "He's sure not going to get a hit. I'm not going to field a ground ball. That's a fact. The biggest thing for him and for us is he's going to do everything he can to prepare his team."

What was played up before LSU played at Mississippi State was the fact that Cannizaro took the head coaching job at Mississippi State last November and did not tell Mainieri about it until just as he was accepting it, even though he knew he had a very good shot at it as far back as September. This left Mainieri miffed and in the lurch to find a new coach just a couple of months before practice would start. This may have been the idea of new State athletic director John Cohen, an old nemesis of Mainieri and other coaches. But Cannizaro chose to not let Mainieri know on his own.

Mainieri promoted coordinator of baseball operations Micah Gibbs to Cannizaro's spot, and Mainieri took a subtle shot at Cannizaro in describing the job Gibbs had done leading up to the previous State series.

“He’s very analytical. I think Micah’s done a great job," Mainieri said. "Andy is much more outgoing and gregarious, and that’s more visible to fans. But Micah is more behind the scenes, and he’s not really looking for attention for himself.”

LSU senior shortstop Kramer Robertson also took a bit of a subtle jab at Cannizaro without mentioning his name over the weekend in describing hot hitting freshman Zach Watson, whom Cannizaro apparently was trying to get to hit the ball chiefly on the ground last fall as he is a speed demon. But Watson hit four home runs in two games at the NCAA Regional last weekend and is second on the team in home runs with eight in just 48 starts.

"To his credit, once Mike became our hitting coach, Zach really took off," Robertson said. "He told him, 'It's OK to hit the ball. You don't have to hit the ball on the ground. Try to hit the ball with your bat speed, and you're strong.' Zach responded to him, and he's been huge for us obviously."

Several other LSU players have done nothing but praise Cannizaro, who still keeps up with some of the Tigers.

"Andy means a lot to me," said senior second baseman Cole Freeman, who leads the Tigers with a .333 batting average, a .435 on base average and is tied for the lead in stolen bases with 18. "He's helped me out a lot with my swing and my approach. He's one of the coaches who has made me what I am today. We were real close when he was here. He's a friend I'm going to have for the rest of my life. He's continuing to help me in the draft (Monday), and talking to me and pulling for me.

"He's a friend that I can always definitely lean on, but come Saturday night once that game starts, it's all business. I'm just going to do whatever I can to help my team win no matter who's on the other side. Hopefully after Sunday, if we win those first two games, I'll be there for him, and he'll be there for me. It'll be the same thing. But him and his whole family they mean a ton to me just because of the people they are."

Mainieri and Cannizaro did shake hands before the games at Mississippi State, but there were few words. Mainieri hopes there is less tension this time.

"There's no bad blood," he said. "Andy was a good worker for our program for two-plus years, and now he's the head coach at Mississippi State. I knew when he went there that every year we were going to have battles with them. There was no avoiding it. I understand the story line, but I think this weekend we've already gotten that out of the way. I think now I'm sure Andy, all he's concerned with is having his team prepared to try to beat LSU so that they can go to Omaha. I know the only thing that crosses my mind is what do we got to do to get our team best prepared to go beat the team that happens to be coached by Andy Cannizaro. They're the ones that are standing in our way to get to Omaha."

SUPER REGIONAL STARTING PITCHERS: SATURDAY, 8 p.m. -

Junior right-hander Alex Lange (9-5, 2.87 ERA, 124 strikeouts in 103 and a third innings), LSU,

vs. sophomore left-hander Konnor Pilkington (8-5, 3.26 ERA, 107 strikeouts in 102 innings), Mississippi State.

SUNDAY, 8 p.m. - Senior left-hander Jared Poche (10-3, 3.13 ERA, 63 strikeouts in 95 innings), LSU,

vs. TBA.

Glenn Guilbeau covers LSU sports for the USA Today Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter at @LSUBeatTweet.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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