The past couple of weeks have been quite the rollercoaster for the LSU baseball program.
First, the Tigers nearly saw the season come to a close without postseason play for the first time since 2011, after going one-and-done in the SEC Tournament. Then, just a couple days after finding out that LSU did indeed make an NCAA Regional, head coach Paul Mainieri announced he would retire from the sport after 39 years coaching.
So as the Tigers entered its final Regional ride with Mainieri, the search began for his replacement.
A few names emerged as early candidates to fill the position—Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan, Ole Miss coach and LSU alum Mike Bianco, and former Oregon State coach Pat Casey, to name a few.
The latter looked to be the head of the pack after reports came out from the reliable D1baseball.com that Casey, who retired in 2018, was the “leading candidate” for the job.
Those reports, which came with mixed responses from Tiger fans, died almost as quickly as they made the rounds. Just a day later, new reports suggested Casey was now “unlikely” to become LSU’s next coach.
Which brings us to this weekend, where the Tigers—who won four straight games after dropping its weekend opener to ultimately win the Regional—will travel to Tennessee for the Super Regional matchup. The Volunteers are coached by the young, bright Tony Vitello, who is the latest hot name to be tied to the LSU opening.
The coaching carousel can’t begin to spin until the season comes to a close, which will happen to one of the two SEC foes this weekend. And the on-field action is already shaping up to be a juicy series.
LSU and Tennessee met for a heated three-game set back in March, and the Volunteers wound up sweeping the series by a combined total of four runs.
It was a series the Tigers felt they should have won. In each of the final two games, LSU entered the last inning with a lead before ultimately surrendering the loss.
Tennessee, which historically hasn’t had a ton of success on the diamond, celebrated the series win emphatically and, according to Mainieri, nastily.
“Listen, even though there wasn’t a huge, huge crowd at Tennessee, it was an extremely hostile environment,” Mainieri told 104.5 ESPN Radio. “They were nasty. … The other team was not handling things with a lot of class, quite frankly.”
That series is in the past, but there will undoubtedly be some extra spice carried over to this weekend, as the Tigers travel back to Knoxville with a trip to the College World Series on the line.
And the hostility should be even greater this go ’round, with larger crowds in the stands and much more to play for on the field.
“If (this weekend) is anything like (that) weekend, make it that. So if you want to call that nasty, make it that,” Vitello said in his pregame press conference. “Coach Mainieri is a legendary coach, so he’s not just gonna come up with something, you know, out of left field. You had a smaller crowd then, so you can hear the exact words people are saying with those smaller COVID crowds. The particular instance that went on there is the Tennessee resident that’s on their roster and about three or four of our guys probably had exchanged words before that moment. But there was a back and forth going on between those guys. But if you’re talking about the whole team, it’s probably pretty evident … our guys have a lot of respect for LSU and the guys they competed against that particular weekend.”
The weekend series begins Saturday at 6 p.m., with Game 2 scheduled for Sunday at either 11 a.m. or 2 p.m.
If the series moves to a third game, it will take place Monday at either 3 p.m. or 6 p.m. All games will be aired on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.