2021 SEC baseball tournament thoughts and takeaways: Semifinal thoughts, Mainieri steps down

 Chris Lee   in Baseball

Mainieri steps down

Talk in Hoover for days had been that LSU coach Paul Mainieri would step down, and he made that announcement on Friday morning. He'll coach LSU in the NCAA tournament if the Tigers get a bid. 

"I have been the luckiest guy in the world to have lived out a childhood dream of becoming a college baseball coach," Mainieri said. "I've worked at four wonderful institutions, and it's been the honor of my life to have served as the head coach at LSU for 15 years."

Mainieri has a fantastic record at LSU. The Tigers have been to the last eight NCAA tournaments and according to D1 Baseball, that streak should extend by a year come Monday. Achieving consistency at that level is a difficult, underrated feat.

But this is LSU, a top-five national program where expectations are as high as they get. The Tigers' one national title under Mainieri and that came way back in 2009. LSU just missed another, finishing runner-up in 2017, and in Baton Rouge, that's not good enough.

LSU should one of America's top programs; the Tigers have terrific facilities and fan support and one of college baseball's top brands. But it's also fair to ask whether expectations are realistic. 

LSU has six national titles. Five came between 1991 and 2000 under the legendary Skip Bertman. But that was a different era. College baseball is more popular and competitive than ever, where it's no longer programs like LSU, Miami, USC, Texas and Cal State Fullerton dominating at the national level.

Look at that list for a moment; LSU is the only SEC team on it and that's significant. 

The league's never been as good as it is now; the league had the top five teams in the national polls earlier in the year. Four SEC teams (Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt) have won a national title since LSU won its last. The SEC Network has expanded the league's brand and NCAA regionals and super regionals are now on TV across the country for all to see. 

So what are fair expectations? That's hard to say, but the next coach will be expected to deliver SEC and national titles soon and there will be no shortage of interested coaches from which the school can choose.

Rebels find another pitcher

It was a little surreal to watch Ole Miss right-hander Tyler Myersmow Vanderbilt down in the Rebels' 4-1 win on Friday; Myers had a 6.15 ERA coming into yesterday's game before he limited Vanderbilt to one run over seven innings, doing much of that with a breaking pitch that sat around 82-84. 

Myers followed a template that often works in Hoover: Just throw strikes. The Commodores hit a bunch of harmless fly balls and were unable to string together enough runners (or get a timely hit) and that was their undoing.

I wrote yesterday that no team had helped itself more in Hoover than the Rebels. I'm not sure Myers' success is as repeatable as Drew McDaniel's or Derek Diamond's, but Myers is first and foremost a strike-thrower and that may come in handy for Ole Miss in some spot next week. 

Vols bring the bats

It can be hard to hit in Hoover but boy, Tennessee has sure figured it out. The Vols have run-ruled Mississippi State and Alabama in their last two games and that's included six home runs by six different players in that span.

The Vols may not have the recognizable offensive stars that some of the other SEC teams do, but they led the league in runs scored in league play. The diverse power production in Hoover--a tough home run park--shows you why the Vols are going to be a tough out in the NCAA tournament for any team in any venue.