BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said it took his 2016 team most of the season to grow comfortable playing on the big stage in big games. Fortunately for him, most of that team is back this season and more than ready for what's ahead of them in the NCAA Tournament.
"We've played for three championships already, and they honestly might have been our three best games of the year," says senior Cole Freeman. "We're understanding what it takes mentally before the game and how big each and every run is and how big every play is in the game. We're clicking right now."
"We've handled the exposure, the big crowds and the big games," says Mainieri. "I think the experience of going over and playing in Houston early in the year helped that as well. I think our team, clearly, now knows how to handle the big game. I'm ultra-confident in our entire squad."
And he should be, especially with the Tigers playing some of their best baseball since 2015. What was once a top-heavy lineup has become very well-rounded with hitters one through nine able to slug for extra bases. Not to mention that last year's leaders and Mainieri's "Fab Four" of Freeman, Kramer Robertson, Greg Deichmann and Friday's starter Jared Poche are at the peak of their individual games as well.
"Coming into this weekend having such a veteran presence and guys that have been through it last year and some even two years, it's big time," says Deichmann. "It helps the young guys know what to expect as well."
"Maybe it was more nerves last year, a little more uptight," says Robertson. "This year: no nerves. We've played in the big games. We've already won three championships. It's just who's up next for us right now."
And as if LSU needed any extra motivation for Friday afternoon's regional opener, a win for Poche would give him number 38 and tie him for the most all-time in school history.