The thing I keep going back to when I think about LSU is how quick some people were to write off Paul Mainieri. And maybe it was easy to do with the diminishing returns of the two seasons following his College World Series championship, and particularly when his SEC record stood at 77-71-2 after last year.
But Mainieri, who had led Notre Dame to eight straight postseasons before taking the job in Baton Rouge, didn't suddenly forget how to coach. And he's spent much of this year proving it to the remaining critics, steering LSU to an SEC regular-season title and then watching his team finish off Oregon State in a thrilling 10-inning game Sunday that locked up a Baton Rouge Super Regional later this week.
The Tigers started out Sunday's game up 3-0 before their second out was recorded. But after that, the LSU went five full innings without scoring. In the meantime, Oregon State was chipping away at the lead, scoring a run each in the first, second and fourth before breaking through for two in the sixth. Suddenly, it looked like a Monday game might be required to settle the regional.
That was before Ty Ross doubled in the top of the ninth with LSU down 5-4. Two batters later, Alex Edward followed that up with a double of his own to tie things at five each. The next inning, a walk, a double and a wild pitch were enough to score the go-ahead run. Nick Goody followed that up by striking out the side in the bottom of the 10th to bring the Bayou Bengals within two wins of Omaha.
Their competition will either be UCF or Stony Brook, depending on who takes the winner-take-all finale in the Coral Gables Regional on Monday. And if Mainieri wins there, maybe he can quiet most of his critics. At least until the next subpar season comes along.