Feb. 17, 2009

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LSU Back on Prowl

By Sean Ryan
CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

Three outs from ending its season and closing the curtain on Alex Box Stadium with a loss, LSU rallied from a 7-4 deficit and forced a third game in the Super Regional against UC Irvine.

The next night - a picturesque Louisiana evening - the Tigers tore through the Anteaters 21-7 to earn a berth in the College World Series.

Picked to finish fifth in its division in 2008, LSU won 20 more games than it did in 2007. Included was a 23-game winning streak and a SEC tournament title. In Paul Mainieri's second year, the Tigers not only made it back to the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence, but they also made it back to a starring role on the national stage.

Mainieri took some time to answer some questions about the upcoming season, dealing with expectations and the game of life.


First Inning – Alex Box Stadium was _______________. The new Alex Box Stadium is _______________.

Alex Box Stadium was magical; the new Alex Box Stadium is a dream come true. Hopefully, we can create some new magical moments in it.

Second Inning – What was it like to close the old stadium with a win that sent your team to Omaha?
I was so happy for all of the people that have followed and supported LSU Baseball for so long. It was so appropriate that we sent out the stadium in a way that was consistent with all of the great moments that venue has hosted through the years. We couldn't have written a better script.

Third Inning – Speaking of Omaha, it wasn't expected by most that the Tigers would reach the College World Series. What were some of the keys to turning it around?
We had a special group of kids that refused to give up when we were struggling. Nobody pointed fingers and everyone kept a positive attitude. I felt all along we had the talent to make a good run at it.

Fourth Inning – Did the turnaround happen quicker than you expected?
I would never admit that it did because when you work hard at something, you expect to be successful. However, I can understand how most people would think it was pretty unexpected from the standpoint of how quickly we got back in the mix.

Fifth Inning – Almost all of the offense returns. Have you ever welcomed back that much firepower?
I had a team at Notre Dame in 2002 that was similar in that we were very experienced with our everyday lineup and expected to win, too. We ended up going to the College World Series that year despite having a young pitching staff. Maybe this lineup at LSU will fulfill its potential and our unproven pitching will come through, too. It would be nice to get to Omaha again.

Sixth Inning – Where can the offense improve?
I'd like to see us draw a few more walks and handle the bat a little better on hit and run plays.

Seventh Inning – On the mound, what do your guys do best? And how difficult is it facing some of the best hitters each weekend?
I think we have some decent arms that will pitch very aggressively. I don't think we will walk many batters. Actually, in the preseason workouts, our pitching has pretty much dominated our hitters. I think that is a good sign because, in the SEC, we know we will face some great hitters.

Eighth Inning – LSU's tradition speaks for itself. How does your team deal with the renewed expectation of greatness?
All everyone can do is to do the best they can each day. If we all start worrying about meeting someone else's expectations, everyone will put too much pressure on themselves. That being said, the reason you come to LSU is because of the history, tradition, resources, and the shot at going for greatness. You have to learn how to handle those expectations and let it work for you.

Ninth Inning – Longtime assistant Terry Rooney is now the head man at UCF. What was his impact on the Tigers, and what did the Golden Knights get?
Terry deserves so much credit for the success we had last year. He is a great recruiter, a tremendous coach, and a wonderful person. Central Florida hit a grand slam with hiring Terry and I think he will do a great job there.

Extra Innings – What are some of the best coaching lessons your father, also a coach, taught you?
Oh, this Q & A does not have enough space for me to answer this question. The most important thing he taught me, though, was that you have to coach for the right reason. And the right reason is to help teach young men what it takes to be successful. Making a positive impact in a young person's life is what should drive all coaches.

Your team posted its best GPA in school history, and you involve it in community service. Share some thoughts on the game of life.
Very simply, I am a firm believer that a young man's baseball skills and career will diminish in time; but his education will last a lifetime. All kids that play college baseball should earn their degree because it will open doors for them to make a living and contribute to society. I also believe these young men are very fortunate to play college baseball and it affords them an opportunity to impact others by doing community service work. This is something they should want to do and it shows that they appreciate the gifts that they have been given. When the players feel as though they are blessed with the opportunity to play college baseball, they will give their greatest effort to the team and have a better chance to succeed.


(photos courtesy of LSU Media Relations Office)