HOOVER, Alabama – New LSU baseball coach Jay Johnson will finally get to participate in the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium – one of these days.
The No. 4 seeded Tigers (37-18) are scheduled to play No. 12 seed Kentucky (31-24) in the third game Thursday after being pushed back from Wednesday because of rain and again Thursday morning because of rain.
No. 2 seed Texas A&M (35-17) and No. 7 seed Florida (36-20) were scheduled to open play Thursday at 10:30 a.m., but rain delayed the start until 3:48 p.m. eastern.
A half hour after the conclusion of that game, No. 1 seed Tennessee (49-7) and No. 8 seed Vanderbilt (36-19) will attempt to play in what will be a night game if it beats more rain on the way. Then LSU-Kentucky would be a very late night game.
The scheduled fourth game Thursday was a loser’s bracket battle between No. 3 seed Arkansas (38-17), which lost to Alabama 4-3 Wednesday night, and the Texas A&M-Florida loser in a game that will be moved to Friday.
Johnson is accustomed to watching this tournament from afar – actual games, that is, not repeated replays of SEC Storied episodes about former LSU coach Skip Bertman or former LSU player Warren Morris on the SEC Network.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of the SEC Tournament,” said Johnson, who was Arizona’s head coach from 2016-21, Nevada’s head coach in 2014 and ’15 and a University of San Diego assistant from 2006-13.
“It was another one of my draws to taking the job here,” he said.
After taking Arizona to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, for the second time last season Johnson became LSU’s coach, replacing retiring Paul Mainieri, who won six SEC Tournament titles (2008, ’09, ’10, ’13, ’14, ’17).
“When you’d wake up on the west coast, and you’re in your office at 7 or 7:30 in the morning, there’s a SEC Tournament game on,” Johnson said. “And then before you go out to practice, there’s a game on. And then when you come in from practice, there’s a game on. You’re eating dinner that night or preparing for your game, there’s a game on.”
“Just the quality of the teams,” Johnson said, shaking his head.
Three SEC teams reached the College World Series last season – Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. State beat Vanderbilt in the best-of-three national championship series.
“I believe there is probably nine teams who have a chance to make the NCAA postseason,” Johnson said. “Maybe 10 if a team gets hot and wins here.”
That would be Kentucky, the last qualifier at 12-18 in the SEC regular season. The Wildcats eliminated Auburn, 3-1, Wednesday in the single-elimination, play-in round of the tournament. Kentucky would need to win the tournament for the automatic bid to NCAA Regional play, which begins a week from Friday.
The rest of the SEC Tournament could be moved to single elimination as the postponements pile up.
The semifinals and final are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
“I think it’s the best showcase for college baseball in the entire country outside of Omaha,” Johnson said.
If they can just get the games in.
LSU enters hot, having won 10 of its last 15 SEC games, including a sweep at Vanderbilt last weekend, for a fourth place overall finish in the league at 17-13. The Tigers’ Ratings Percentage Index position is No. 22, and the Tigers have a chance to host one of the 16, four-team NCAA Regionals. Those sites will be announced Sunday.
The extra time off with the rain delays has allowed LSU players Jacob Berry Cade Doughty and Gavin Dugas to mend various injuries.
LSU opened the SEC season 4-5 after much higher expectations.
“Not a lot of people gave them a lot of credit early in the season,” Kentucky coach Nick Mingione said. “The job Jay Johnson has done is remarkable.”
Now, he just has to follow those six SEC Tournament titles left by his predecessor.
“Our players are in a really good head space,” Johnson said. “I promised them if they would continue to do that, we would be very difficult to beat this time of year.”