East: Wet weekend serves as dry run for LSU

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The LSU baseball team set itself up for postseason success by clinching the Southeastern Conference West Division title Saturday.

The Tigers earned a bye in the first round of the SEC tournament and strengthened a pretty much already open-and-shut case to be a national seed and stay home for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

And as lagniappe, Mother Nature provided wet conditions that gave LSU a dry run for tournament play.

Weather delays, odd and flexible game times and impromptu pitching changes are all part of postseason baseball, and the Tigers handled each well enough to take two of three from a scrappy Aggies team that pitched, ran and fielded well enough to push the Tigers harder than some more heralded opponents have.

The Tigers lost a Thursday game that ended on Friday, won a Friday game that ended on Saturday and then came back less than two hours later to win a seven-inning game that went eight.

“It was kind of weird,” catcher Ty Ross understated, “but we battled through it, stayed together and played good LSU baseball.”

It wasn’t great LSU baseball, but that’s not the point. The imperfections matter less than the results in tournament-compatible conditions.

“Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “We do some things that make me scratch my head.”

He scratched his head when Andrew Stevenson was picked off second base with the bases loaded and no outs in a pitchers’ duel in the series finale.

He scratched his head when errors by Alex Bregman and Christian Ibarra left Cody Glenn with a loss after an outstanding start in the opener.

He scratched his head when another error by Ibarra extended Aaron Nola more than should have been necessary in the second game.

“But,” Mainieri said, “you can’t ever argue about the grit and determination of our team.”

This title-clinching series resembled one at South Carolina a year ago when the Tigers claimed the SEC title. Threatening weather forced a doubleheader and then, in a winner-take-all finale, LSU won in extra innings.

“Winning games like that doesn’t just happen in places like this,” Mainieri said. “It takes kids with a lot of courage, a lot of composure, a lot of poise, a lot of talent, a lot of confidence, a lot of belief in each other. After a while, you start thinking it’s not a coincidence when you win these kinds of games, especially on the road.”

The Tigers presumably have played their last true road game. They’ll leave Alex Box Stadium for the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala., in two weeks, but barring something even more bizarre than these three days at Blue Bell Park, they won’t travel again unless they make it to the CWS.

During tournament play, they likely will see curveballs like the ones they saw here.

“If it happens again,” Ross said, “we’re prepared.”