The LSU baseball team has waited four long years to get back to the College World Series, so having to wait an extra day to play its first game isn’t a big deal.
The Tigers expected their half of the bracket to begin play in Omaha, Neb., on Saturday because the super regionals on that side began a day earlier than those on the other side did last week.
But when the Chapel Hill (N.C.) Super Regional, which was in the same bracket as the Baton Rouge Super Regional, dragged into Tuesday because of two weather delays, the NCAA reversed the brackets.
North Carolina, which defeated South Carolina 5-4 in the winner-take-all finale Tuesday afternoon, will face N.C. State at 2 p.m. Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park. LSU will be the home team when it plays UCLA in the final first-round game at 7 p.m. Sunday. LSU’s game will be televised on ESPN2.
Mississippi State and Oregon State, which didn’t advance until beating Kansas State on Monday night, will play the first game at 2 p.m. Saturday. Indiana and Louisville will play at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“It doesn’t matter when we play, to be honest,” Tigers senior first baseman Mason Katz said before practice Tuesday evening. “We just want to play, and it doesn’t matter who we play. We just want to beat them and move on to the next team.”
The losers of Sunday’s games will play their second game in the double-elimination tournament on Tuesday afternoon. The Sunday winners will play Tuesday night.
“I wish we left right now,” Katz said. “I wish we could just go up there and just go play baseball. Things have to happen that push us back, but we’d be excited to play whenever it was.”
The team flies out of Baton Rouge at 7:30 a.m. Thursday to begin what coach Paul Mainieri called “an unbelievably hectic day.”
After arriving in Omaha, the Tigers will head straight to their hotel, where they are expected to be greeted by autograph seekers. After a quick box lunch, they’ll head to a high school for practice and get back to the hotel about 6 p.m.
“It’s a long day, and the next day is going to be even crazier,” Mainieri said.
The team will begin Friday by having its picture taken in front of TD Ameritrade Park, do ESPN interviews, practice, attend an NCAA seminar on sports wagering and have an autograph session.
After an hour break to change at the hotel, all the teams will head back to the stadium for a barbecue together and to witness the opening ceremonies before returning to the hotel about 11 p.m.
“I told the players that they’re going to feel like they played a tripleheader that day because they’ll be so tired,” Mainieri said. “So I think there is an advantage to not playing Saturday. It gives you a chance to get your feet back on the ground, take a deep breath and say, ‘OK, we’re in Omaha, and now it’s time to start thinking about baseball without having to play right away.’ ”
On Saturday, the Tigers, who were the first team to qualify for the CWS when they completed a sweep of Oklahoma last Saturday, will visit underprivileged kids at an Omaha boys club then practice.
Mainieri said they might stop briefly at the stadium on the way back to the hotel so the players can experience TD Ameritrade under the same conditions under which they’ll play the next night.
No one on this team has played in the CWS. LSU’s last trip came in 2009, when the Tigers won their sixth national championship.
Playing on Sunday has a practical advantage for LSU, which has two key players recovering from injury. Outfielder Mark Laird’s sprained left ankle showed much improvement against Oklahoma, and he said he expects to be back to normal by Sunday.
“When we practice Saturday,” Laird said, “it will be time for us to get our focus back and remember what our main goal is.”
Designated hitter Sean McMullen said he could run at only about 75 percent speed last weekend because of a strained left hamstring that he said has improved significantly since.
“I would have been ready for Saturday, but obviously another day will be better for it,” McMullen said. “I’m very confident with the way it’s coming along.”
Mainieri said the only negative he could think of in regards to the later start was the fact that if the Tigers’ third game winds up being played Friday and they choose to give Aaron Nola, their No. 1 pitcher, a second start in Game 3, he would only have four days rest instead of five.
“That’s the only thing I’m concerned about,” Mainieri said, “but you really have nothing to complain about when you’re going to the College World Series, and I’m not going to start now.”
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