HOOVER, Ala. — The LSU baseball team will play its first game of the Southeastern Conference tournament at the time most people might be drinking their coffee at a desk on their work day.
That 9:30 a.m. start Wednesday against South Carolina at the Hoover Metropolitan Complex is not crazy, it’s standard for a baseball tournament trying to fit four games into a day. But it’s not just the early start that makes the SEC tournament a test, it’s also a primer for the postseason when teams can spend a lot of time on the road.
For LSU, it’s already been long trip with it coming off a road series at Georgia.
But being on the road for a long time can be beneficial for a team that has carried the weight of expectations all season, having lasted 12 straight weeks ranked No. 1 before dropping two SEC series and suffering a multitude of injuries.
“We want to get out of here and get after it, we’re excited,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said after the Tigers’ win over McNeese on May 16. “We’ve got to manage their workload, that’s the hardest part about some of the mistakes is it has to be more mental work. Are you going to ask Dylan Crews and Jordan Thompson to give more? They can’t physically. They’ve played every single game since I’ve been coach. Tre’ (Morgan) has been dealing with a lot, you don’t see it because he’s played as good as you could play, but the body’s not in great shape.”
The Tigers left for Hoover on Saturday, after the series with Georgia ended. They practiced at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday at the University of Alabama-Birmingham to prepare for Wednesday’s early start.
“It just didn’t make a lot of sense to fly all the way home and then sit on a bus for six hours when we could just drive two and a half hours. It’s a well-deserved three-day break without a game,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said. “I don’t know if we’ve had one of those in a long time throughout the schedule.”
Being at home is an advantage for game-day atmosphere, but not always for the players. As student-athletes, the Tigers were taking finals for the first two weeks of May.
“I think for the players, the last week and a half was tough. It hit at Auburn a little bit. I walked down to our team meeting room to do something and there were laptops everywhere. It wasn’t even like a designated study hall time,” Johnson said. “Then you’ve got guys coming in at different times for practice last week. They did a great job academically too, but I know they’re really happy to have that behind them.”
When the players are on the road they’re all on the same schedule, hanging out in hotels. And without school, they’ll have more time to focus on rest, baseball and bonding.
“They’ll play, like, 12-year-old board games in the hotel, it’s pretty cool,” Johnson said.
That time is precious. Catcher Hayden Travinski said it is when he’s built his strongest friendships on the team. Players aren’t all going home to their respective apartments or dorm rooms.
“We get to spend more time with each other,” he said. “It’s tough because we’ll be gone 10-12 days, but I think it will help us if anything because we’re together playing Uno and other games, and when it comes time to play, we’ll play.”
On the field, the SEC tournament is the best way to prepare for postseason because it’s a time when LSU isn’t playing the same team for three games in a row. The tournament more closely mirrors regional and College World Series formats.
“One of the reasons I like to play a preseason tournament is for that very reason because the NCAA tournament, at least the first round and in the Omaha round, you’re playing a different team each day,” Johnson said. “Obviously, getting that experience in Round Rock (Texas in February) will be helpful and then this SEC tournament. I think all those things can be helpful as we move forward.”
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