Over the last few days, Paul Mainieri has heard from countless people "Great job this weekend." Yet for Mainieri and LSU, it doesn't feel like the team that is coming off an SEC series road win over a top 15 team in Ole Miss.
That blown 9-1 lead in the eighth inning with two outs of game three against the Rebels looms large for a Tigers team that did so much right during the course of the weekend. Because LSU (24-15, 6-12) at this point in the season is fighting for its postseason lives.
When the Tigers take on No. 1 Arkansas in Alex Box this weekend, it will have been the sixth top-10 team the program has faced in conference play. Their RPI is No. 22 in the country because of the No. 1 strength of schedule but while Mainieri is keeping a close eye on the kind of progress this team needs to make up, it's not something he's approached with the players yet.
"We're just talking about playing each game one week at a time, that's the only way you can handle it because it seems like such a daunting task," Mainieri said. "Obviously the goal has changed quite a bit for this year."
It's a position that LSU has rarely found itself in during Mainieri's tenure, fighting for a spot in the SEC tournament. In past seasons, even in LSU's worst struggles, the Tigers have managed to claw their way to Hoover and have historically been one of the better teams.
LSU has won the tournament six times under Mainieri and it's usually been the start of what has spring boarded the Tigers into long, successful postseason runs. The goal over the next four weeks is putting themselves in position just to make the tournament, the first goal he lays out for his team every season.
"Everybody kind of chuckles when I say that but this year shows you how you can never take anything for granted," Mainieri said. "This is a tough league."
For Mainieri, he can't shake the fact at how close this team is to being in a much better position. One pitch against Tennesee in game two, two more outs against South Carolina and finally, finishing off a 9-1 lead in the eighth against Ole Miss the right way, you're looking at a .500 team in SEC play.
"We've played the No. 1 most difficult schedule in the country and if we'd held on to those three wins, we'd be 27-12 and probably ranked 10-15 in the country," Mainieri said. "We're that close. It's been a struggle all year but it just goes to show with four weeks remaining, we've been in perfect position to make our final push."
The good news for LSU after this weekend is the Tigers get the relaxed part of their SEC schedule with Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M, three teams in a similar boat. How this young team ultimately manages the final part of the regular season will be ultimate postseason indicator but the wins are still there to make a late push.
"We've just gotta take a deep breath, we have 16 games remaining and take it one at a time," Mainieri said. "If we could just take care of business in these last four weekends and these last four midweek games, I think we can put ourselves in a position to be in the postseason and make our run."