The last time LSU faced Tennessee, coach Paul Mainieri couldn't help but mention after the series the team was a little snake bitten. LSU had just been walked off twice in one day against the Volunteers and fallen to 1-5 in SEC play after a sweep in Knoxville.
It left a sour taste in the Tigers' mouths because they knew the record didn't reflect the way the team had played that weekend. The games were so close, 3-1, 9-8 and 3-2, that Mainieri knew the team had let a prime opportunity slip through its fingers.
"Our guys were still pretty wide eyed and didn't really understand the SEC quite yet," Mainieri said. "I thought we competed really hard and thought we were growing up right before my eyes."
LSU has proven it can go on the road and not be flustered as the Tigers did win four SEC series, a number of midweek games and most recently the Oregon regional in road settings. The one series where LSU was swept on the road, in Knoxville, the Tigers were walked off twice in two games and had opportunites to win all three games.
So even with crowds expected to be much larger than the first go around, the mindset of this team doesn't change which is a positive. Every player and coach Mainieri were asked about the road success and nobody seemed to have an answer. It's gotten to a point where the players even joke among themselves, calling each other "Road Dogs."
"I would just say we go there and take it one game at a time," Bianco said. "The young guys have performed well and grown up fast and I think that's why we've played so well here at the end. We had veteran guys step up and hopefully we can take that same mentality."
This go around LSU will need to continue the momentum it built on the mound and at the plate in Oregon. The Tigers have had multiple players outside of the core group who stepped up as the team grew closer through that four game win streak in Eugene.
The Volunteers have one of the toughest pitching staffs in the entire country with a team ERA of 3.42, top 10 overall. It's also a team with a lot of power as Tennessee has hit 92 home runs to LSU's 88 so it's expected to be an absolute slugfest in a home run friendly ball park.
"We went up a really good pitching staff but when we went against them, the ball park was small and they had home run hitters," Mainieri said of the first Tennessee series. "Yet I thought our kids competed really well. We had to use it as a growing experience and we've become a better team because of those experiences."
LSU outfielder Gavin Dugas remembers the bad taste that series against the Volunteers left in the team's mouth and doesn't want to experience it again. Dugas, a veteran on this team, has seen how the group has grown up throughout the year, particularly the gauntlet schedule the program faced in conference play.
"It was a punch across the face but I think it was able to boost us in a good way," Dugas said. "It helped us realize it's really hard to win SEC games and I think that's where a bunch of guys were able to understand. Our back's been against the wall all year, going 1-8 to start the season. Every game matters and that's how we need to handle ourselves."
LSU does and should feel very confident in its chances this weekend if it plays like it did in Eugene. Facing elimination four times, clutch hitting and stellar performances on the mound from a variety of players helped the Tigers advance to the super regional.
The Tigers will have to do it without the services of outfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo, who pulled his hamstring in the Oregon regional and will miss the weekend. Mitchell Sanford will also not be available because of a back injury that Mainieri says will force him to miss the rest of the season.
But LSU has watched as Drew Bianco, Zach Arnold and Jordan Thompson have picked it up entering the weekend while the more reliable players like Dugas, Dylan Crews, Tre Morgan and Cade Doughty have remained steady.
"I think as a whole our team was able to come together a little bit more," Dugas said. "A little bit stronger emotionally, physically, mentally, it brought us together in ways that maybe not everybody can see. That was something that was pretty special what we did and I think that brought this team together in a very special way."