The start of post-season play brings a new mentality for the 8th-ranked LSU Tigers (40-14-1).
"I see the post-season as just being a ball of fun," Head Coach Paul Mainieri said. "I mean, that's how I approach it every year. I feel great when we've qualified, when we've put ourselves in a good position, and we've done that. A lot of the pressure is off the kids, they know they're in the post-season, they can go out to Hoover and just play to win, to have fun and enjoy it. And we just always seem to go to Hoover and play well."
Not only did LSU win last year's SEC Tournament, but the Tigers have claimed four of the past six championships (2008, 2009, 2010, 2013).
"Tradition says that we do pretty well there usually, we're just gonna go out there and try to play like we've been playing the last week or two," freshman pitcher Jared Poche' said. "And play loose and relaxed and just go out there and have fun."
Sophomore shortstop Alex Bregman added, "I think we're gonna have a lot of fun out there this week, and just trying to build one win to the next win. If we put together good at bats and pitch well and play good defense, we'll come out on top, and I think the guys are ready to go."
"Look at the past, we've had some great success over there, so if we can continue if, last year, we had a great run, ending up losing one in there and ended up bouncing back, and winning it all," sophomore centerfielder Andrew Stevenson said. "So if we lose one, we're not out, we're just gonna keep going and keep fighting for it".
As the three seed, LSU earned a first round bye and moves straight into double elimination. A strong showing in Hoover could solidify a host bid for next week's NCAA regionals.
"We've gotta win a good bit of games because we haven't got anything locked down yet, like we did last year, so that definitely makes it harder for us," junior pitcher Aaron Nola said. "We can't take any games off because we don't know where we stand yet."
However, Mainieri believes the Tigers should host regardless of their success at the SEC Tourney.
"I can tell you this. In my opinion, what we've done already is worthy of hosting an NCAA regional," Mainieri said. "We're the third best team in the SEC. That's why we play 30 games to determine how each team falls into place, and we finished third. So, you can argue this guy has a higher RPI. This got a higher strength of schedule. You can say all you want. The bottom line is we're the third best team in the SEC. I think the third best team deserves to host a regional."
LSU will also try to sustain its recent offensive surge. The Tigers are fresh off their largest margin of victory in an SEC series during the Paul Mainieri era, with LSU outscoring Auburn, 29-4 in a three game sweep.
"It just gives our kids a relaxation, you know it makes them feel so confident that they know what they're capable of doing. And when you have everybody clicking, you can be a pretty good offensive team."
The Tigers belted out 38 more hits, proving their 27-0 win over Northwestern State last Tuesday wasn't a complete anomaly.
"We're having fun, and every time we go back in the dugout, and get ready to hit, we feel we can score a run at any point, with anybody up, so we're just feeding off each other, and there's a lot of good energy going," Bregman said.
And while LSU's offensive numbers were outstanding over the past week, 56 runs in just four games, the team even raised its collective batting average 10 points to .281, Mainieri says not to expect those gigantic numbers in Hoover this week as the SEC Tournament always brings better pitching and stiffer competition.
"When Wednesday rolls around, whether we're facing Tyler Beede or Nick Williams from Tennessee, it's probably going to be a low-scoring game. It's probably going to be a tight game. It's probably going to be decided by a couple of key at bats, some key plays and some key pitches."