Having already secured the SEC regular season championship (and very likely a national seed in the NCAA tournament), No. 5 LSU (42-14, 19-11) now turns its attention toward a possible 10th conference tournament crown.
LSU's tournament opener Wednesday against No. 25 Mississippi State (35-21, 16-14) is a world away from where the Tigers were last spring, when they didn't make the cut for the SEC tournament and instead had to hope for a miracle berth in the postseason -- which didn't come. Instead, on Tuesday they waited in Hoover, Ala., to see which team would emerge to face them from the middle-of-the-league pack.
That wound up being the seventh-seeded Bulldogs, who pummeled Arkansas, 9-1, on the strength of a six-run ninth inning. Mississippi State was LSU's opening opponent in conference play on March 16. The Tigers took the first two games of the series by one-run margins before dropping the final contest, 7-1.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said Monday he intends to treat the Tigers' tournament opener like a typical midweek game. Rather than turn to fireballer Kevin Gausman, Mainieri is giving the start to freshman Aaron Nola (6-4, 4.03 ERA), but he said he'll likely use an amalgamation of pitchers working short innings to get through the day.
A win would push the Tigers into a rematch with No. 12 Kentucky on Thursday, while a loss would drop them into a game with the winner of today's Arkansas-Ole Miss loser's bracket matchup.