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June 10, 2013No LSU player has ever participated in a College World Series game.
Pitcher Aaron Nola was in the stands when his older brother Austin was the starting shortstop as the Tigers won the 2009 national championship. Student assistant coach Blake Dean was a starter on both of LSU's College World Series teams in 2008 and 2009.
Former LSU coach Skip Bertman always talked about how difficult it is for a first-time team to have success in Omaha. The Tigers didn't win their first national title until their fifth trip to the College World Series.
Current coach Paul Mainieri, who will be taking his fourth team to the CWS - three at LSU and one at Notre Dame, had a different message for his team at a pre-practice meeting Monday afternoon. Mainieri firmly believes this 2013 team of CWS newbies is prepared for Omaha.
"You are going to play in front large crowds," Mainieri said. "We have done that all year. We are going to play in a beautiful ball park. There is nothing better than what we play in. You are covered by so many media. Just look at how many media members cover us during the year.
"There are autograph seekers. Our players sign autographs during the year. You are going to face tough competition for the national title. We have done that all year in the SEC. Everything you have to face in Omaha, we have faced at LSU."
Three teams are set on the Tigers' side of the bracket in the College World Series. LSU will play UCLA in one first-round game. The Bruins went on the road and swept two games at Fullerton State. North Carolina State, which won two one-run games at home against Rice, is awaiting its first opponent.
North Carolina and South Carolina had their decisive third game postponed by rain Monday night. The Tar Heels and Gamecocks will play Tuesday morning to determine the fourth team in the bracket.
At least LSU knows its first-round opponent - a UCLA team, which will be making its third appearance in four years at Omaha. Mainieri admitted that his assistant coaches will play a greater role this week, especially before the team leaves Baton Rouge.
"Our assistant coaches are so big this week," Mainieri said. "I have to do so much stuff like this with the media. I have to get together with (Senior Associate Athletic Director) Herb Vincent to make plans for the trip.
"I have looked at the tape of the UCLA pitcher we will be facing. I have noticed some things. It will be up to Will (Davis), Javi (Sanchez) and Blake to talk with our hitters since I have to be involved in other activities."
Mainieri and assistant coach Alan Dunn have to make some decisions about the pitching rotation. Nola will start the first game against UCLA. It has not yet been determined who will be on the mound in the Tigers' second game two days later. The two choices are Ryan Eades and Cody Glenn.
"Aaron Nola will go head-to-head with UCLA's best," Mainieri said. "It should be a great ball game. We'll play it by ear after that. Cody Glenn will throw a five-inning simulated game this week. We'll see how he looks. He was rusty last week. We'll be watching the teams and see if one pitcher is a better matchup."
Mainieri indicated that all of LSU's pitchers except for Nola and Eades will throw simulated games this week. Glenn, Joey Bourgeois, Brent Bonvillian, Kurt McCune, Nate Fury and Kevin Berry made no appearances in the series against Oklahoma.
One player who did show up against the Sooners was second baseman JaCoby Jones. In two games, Jones had five hits - two singles, a double, a triple and a home run. Jones, who was drafted Friday by the Pittsburgh Pirates, had the biggest hit - a leadoff triple off Oklahoma ace Jonathan Gray in game one.
"JaCoby is a dominant guy on the field," Mainieri said. "He is game-changer. He can do it with his glove, his legs and his bat. If he plays that way this week, we'll do fine."
Mainieri's first LSU CWS team dropped two of three games - losses to North Carolina sandwiched around a victory against Rice. With many of the same players a year later, the Tigers defeated Texas two games to one in the championship series.
On Saturday night, Mainieri remarked that he wished the Tigers could have made the trip to Omaha. But, they came up one game short. Still, Mainieri is not concerned about that lack of CWS experience.
"I texted the guys Sunday night," Mainieri said. "I told them they have an extra day to celebrate. I was real proud of what they accomplished. But, now it is back to work.
"I know what to expect (in Omaha) and I stated that in the (team) meeting. Knowledge is power. The more you know the better you are. These kids handle everything they face. They are used to it on a daily basis."