LSU’s Paul Mainieri looks for ‘payback’ against UNO’s Ron Maestri

Mainieri faces his college coach and mentor as LSU hosts Maestri, UNO

Paul Mainieri is ready for some revenge — 29 years in the making.

A top 10-ranked team by most preseason polls, LSU opens the season against UNO at 7 p.m. Friday at Alex Box Stadium, providing its coach, Mainieri, with a shot at retribution for a near three-decade-old defeat.

UNO and coach Ron Maestri beat Mainieri and his Division II St. Thomas team in 1985. Maestri, making his return to coaching this season after a 30-year layoff, is bringing the Privateers into Alex Box for Round 2 against his old player.

“They came down to Miami and put a whipping on my St. Thomas team,” Mainieri said. “I’m hoping to do a little payback on my mentor this weekend.”

It was in jest, of course.

Mainieri calls Maestri the most influential figure in his life, aside from his father. Mainieri spent his final two years of college as an infielder for Maestri at UNO, two years the coach calls “great.”

Still, that 1985 game sticks in Mainieri’s mind. Then a 27-year-old in his third season as a head coach, Mainieri was so furious about an umpire’s call during the game that he was ejected.

“I didn’t make it to the end of the game,” he said. “Think I was thrown out.

“The only reason they won is that darn umpire’s call,” Mainieri said joking.

That season was the last for Maestri during his first run with the Privateers. He led them to the College World Series the year before in 1984, an event Mainieri attended.

“People forget how great a program UNO had back in the ’70s and ’80s,” Mainieri said. “They had great ballplayers.”

Today, UNO has a fledgling program. The Privateers won 27 games the past three seasons.

Maestri’s resurrecting effort begins Friday against an old friend — and foe.

Mainieri expects to have similar feelings as he did 29 years ago.

“I just remember looking over at the other dugout and seeing Mase over there and just reflecting on how fortunate I had the opportunity to play for that man,” Mainieri said. “I’m sure I’ll share that moment this weekend.”

Searching for a closer

One of the looming questions heading into this season — who closes games? — might not be answered for a while.

“I thought about it a lot this week because I’ve lost a lot of sleep over this very topic,” Mainieri said.

Heading into the season-opening weekend, Mainieri has a group of hurlers who could develop into LSU’s closer: Brady Domangue, Joe Broussard and Kurt McCune and freshmen Parker Bugg and Alden Cartwright are all possibilities, the coach said.

LSU is searching for a replacement for school record-tying closer Chris Cotton.

“I think the thing to do is run the kids out there,” Mainieri said. “Initially, it might be McCune, might be Broussard, might be Domangue. I’m not sure yet because they’re all going to pitch.

“I’m just going to let these kids pitch — and once you see a guy out there four or five times and see his body language, and you see his confidence and that he’s not afraid to pound that zone, and you start to feel the confidence the whole team has in him — I have a sense that somebody may emerge and it may not be one of those three guys,” he continued. “It may be a sleeper.”

Nola on a pitch count

Ace pitcher Aaron Nola will be on a pitch count Friday in the season opener against UNO.

His limit is about 80-90 pitches, Mainieri said.