LSU baseball is in the rare position of fighting for its postseason life at this year's SEC tournament
LSU coach Paul Mainieri is a big fan of the drama that surrounds the opening day knockout round of the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.
In a rare change, the Tigers will be part of it this year.
The storied LSU program has struggled this season — especially by its lofty standards — and is the No. 8 seed at this week's SEC tournament in Hoover, Alabama. The Tigers face No. 9 Mississippi State on Tuesday in what might be a must-win game for their NCAA tournament chances.
Mainieri said his team must embrace the high stakes on Tuesday's game without feeling the pressure. LSU was the national runner-up last season and has made the College World Series in three of the past five seasons.
"It'll be an exciting ballgame," Mainieri said. "And that's all we're going to do — we're going to play a baseball game. Nobody knows the postseason ramifications so I'm not even going to try to speculate."
The SEC has used the opening day knockout round format since 2013 when the tournament expanded to 12 teams. The No. 5 through No. 12 seeds play a single-elimination game on Tuesday and the winners advance to a double-elimination format that begins on Wednesday.
The other games on knockout Tuesday: No. 6 Vanderbilt vs. No. 11 Texas A&M, No. 7 Auburn vs. No. 10 Kentucky and No. 5 South Carolina vs. No. 12 Missouri. Kentucky and Texas A&M are among the programs in a similar position as LSU, teetering on the edge of an NCAA Tournament invitation.
The four teams automatically earning a spot in the double-elimination round are No. 1 seed Florida — which is the defending national champion — No. 2 Ole Miss, No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Arkansas.
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The tournament format goes back to a single-elimination format for Saturday's semifinals and Sunday's final. Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said seeding won't matter much in Hoover.
"The truth is it feels like the league is loaded every year," Bianco said. "If you don't play well, you'll lose. Everyone is good and everyone can beat you if you don't play your best baseball."
Some other things to watch when the SEC Tournament starts on Tuesday:
BULLDOGS ON A ROLL
Mississippi State had a tough start to the season when coach Andy Cannizaro resigned following the season's opening weekend because of "poor decisions" that weren't specified by the school.
Saturday Summary:— MSU Baseball (@HailStateBB) May 20, 2018
- First team to sweep No. 1 since April 2016
- Second top 5 sweep (Arkansas)
- 17th comeback win
- 15th win vs. a ranked opponent
- Second six-run inning in as many days (prior to Friday, no team had done it once vs. UF in 2018)#HailState pic.twitter.com/EXLr6anJAH
The Bulldogs struggled during first several weeks, but have been one of the league's better teams during May and capped the regular season with a stunning three-game sweep of No. 1 Florida.
FLORIDA BACK IN THE POSTSEASON
Florida begins its postseason quest to win a second straight national championship on Wednesday. The Gators have been one of the best teams in the country this season and had a 20-10 record in league play.
They come into the tournament on a four-game losing streak, which is their longest of the season.