Rabalais: As good as LSU is, still more to do

By Scott Rabalais

Advocate sportswriter

This is how good the 2013 LSU baseball team is:

The Tigers played what was for them an essentially meaningless season-ending series with Ole Miss this past weekend, shelved staff ace Aaron Nola, rested hot-hitting second baseman JaCoby Jones, gave the understudies the starring roles in Saturday’s matinee, and still nearly swept the series.

This team is 48-8, a record made even more remarkable for the fact it’s the best regular-season in LSU’s remarkable baseball history.

“Anytime you can do something at this place in this sport that hasn’t been done before, you’ve done something special,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.

“It’s hard to argue that we’ve had the best regular season ever (at LSU).”

Justifiably proud as he is, Mainieri knows the score. And it isn’t the final tally from Saturday’s game with Ole Miss or any of the other 55 games LSU has played this year.

The scores that count are the ones to come.

The postseason is here, and for LSU baseball, this is the real season.

On the face of it, it’s an unfairly high standard the Tigers are held to. This 2013 team deserves to go down as one of the greatest in LSU’s proud baseball history.

And yet it won’t unless it wins the national championship. Because when it comes to LSU baseball, true greatness is reserved for the select few. To be considered great, you have get your team’s year up on The Intimidator billboard in right field.

The standard: 1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000 and 2009. The message from that big advertising sign is go big or go home. Be immortal or be forgotten.

The Stony Brook team that upset the Tigers in last year’s super regional was automatically the greatest in that program’s history. It doesn’t matter that the Seawolves sank in the College World Series (0-2). Go 0-2 in the CWS at LSU and you’re hoping your charter flight returns to Baton Rouge under cover of darkness.

It’s not fair. But it’s what it’s like to play basketball at Kentucky or Duke, or football at Alabama or Notre Dame.

There’s a little discontent in Tigertown that LSU could go 23-7 in Southeastern Conference play and still finish 3½ games behind Vanderbilt.

But LSU would be content to let Vandy revel in its SEC hardware. The Tigers have loftier goals than that.

Even doing well in the SEC tournament is secondary for LSU to NCAA play. If you’re the Tigers it would be nice to win it — and no LSU team has won the CWS without first winning the SEC regular season and/or tournament titles — but not at the expense of jeopardizing its NCAA chances. If Jones’ hand still needs time to heal up, then he won’t play in Hoover, Ala. If Nola’s arm is still fatigued (though he told Mainieri on Wednesday he feels refreshed) someone else will have to do the pitching.

There is truly only one mountain left for LSU to climb. It’s time to reach for the summit, or go tumbling down the slope.