After a terrific regular season that ended with LSU being ranked No. 1 in the nation, the Tigers roared back from the loser's bracket to win the SEC baseball tournament. LSU than raced to an unbeaten 5-0 mark in the regional and Super Regional rounds. The Tigers appeared poised to win a seventh national championship. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum, make that TD Ameritrade Park. LSU left its bats at home.
Those bats must have missed the flight. The ones that showed up in Omaha sure had a lot of friendly fly balls in them.
It was truly surprising to see LSU go two-and-barbeque at the College World Series. How could you have seen this coming? North Carolina knocked LSU out of the 2008 College World Series and history repeated itself in 2013.
Regardless of who pitched or how well they pitched for LSU, the Tigers had little or no chance to win scoring just three runs in two games. You can talk about the lousy bats and the cavernous ballpark all you want but LSU was its own worst enemy, hitting the ball in the air way too frequently.
LSU had chances. You will not win stranding 13 runners in nine innings. You do not win when you strand 20 base runners in two games. The Tigers went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position against North Carolina.
The rust for Cody Glenn was palpable. Glenn was brilliant over the final month of the season for LSU, becoming the second best starter on the squad but not pitching in 27 days was too much to overcome. He simply was not sharp. Obviously, he put himself and his teammates in that position by getting suspended prior to the regional.
Going with a left-hander was the way to go against North Carolina for Paul Mainieri. The Tar Heels are a predominantly left-handed hitting team.
The strike zone of home plate umpire Steve Mattingly was miniscule in the LSU-UNC game. He squeezed both teams and it really hurt Glenn early. On a 2-and-2 pitch to cleanup hitter Brian Holbertson in the top of the first inning, Glenn made a very good pitch that could have been called strike three. Instead, Mattingly called it a ball and Holbertson crushed the next pitch for a two-run home run to right field, the first to that part of the TD Ameritrade Park ever.
Mattingly was also heard to be scolding and threatening Ty Ross with ejection later in the game over balls and strikes. Memo to Mattingly--you are not the show, you are not the game, you are the integrity of the game. Act like it. These teams earned their way to the College World Series and deserved to be treated with respect.
It is unfortunate that Ryan Eades did not get to pitch in the College World Series. A terrific young man who overcame a very serious injury deserved that opportunity but LSU simply could not get to a third game to get him on the bump. Here is hoping that Eades takes advantage of being picked high in the draft and has a prosperous professional career.
Christian Ibarra went 0-for-22 to close his season, including 0-for-7 in the College World Series. The guy hit a lot of balls hard, squared them good, but hit in bad luck. He is sure handed and has a very good arm at third base. The fact that LSU has three hitters in prime positions hit the skids was too much to overcome. Ibarra, Alex Bregman and Raph Rhymes all went hitless in Omaha.
Rhymes stranded eight runners on base against North Carolina and left 10 on base in two games in the CWS for LSU and was a weak fly ball waiting to happen in Omaha. Rhymes was 0-for-9 in the two games. You had to feel bad for Rhymes, a great story of a guy who was rejected out of high school by LSU, went to LSU-Eunice and improved, then lived his dream of becoming a Tiger and having two great seasons.
Bregman, perhaps the most outwardly confident player on the entire LSU squad, looked like he had a bit of stage fright in Omaha. He was shaky in the field and he was awful at the plate, getting himself out constantly by swinging at pitches out of the zone, going 0-for-8 in the CWS. For the first time all season long, he looked like a freshman, which he is. The kid had a fantastic season and was a primary reason for LSU reaching the College World Series.
Jacoby Jones, the hero of the Super Regional win over Oklahoma, went 1-for-7 with a lot of fly ball outs.
Mason Katz finished off a tremendous career with a great showing in Omaha. If he chooses to play professional baseball, I would not bet against him. I covered him in high school at Jesuit and he could always hit. Being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals (fourth round) may entice him to continue playing the game he loves.
Mark Laird was excellent, going 5-for-9 in the CWS and making an outstanding running catch against North Carolina.
Chris Cotton is another great story. He became an elite pitcher, a brilliant closer, despite not having overpowering stuff. Cotton is an inspiration to everyone who dreams of playing the game. Do not ever let anyone tell you that you cannot succeed.
Brett Bonvillain was at his best in the postseason. His performance against ULL in the regional and the way he picked up his team against North Carolina were superb. Thibodaux and Delgado should be proud.
Aaron Nola was fabulous all season long and he returns to anchor the LSU pitching staff in 2014. That is a heck of a place to start a pitching staff.
College Baseball is growing and it is evening out. Seeing Indiana and Louisville emerge to make the College World Series is good for the game, providing hope for other fledgling programs.
Is there any doubt that LSU baseball fans are the best? LSU leads the nation in attendance annually. Tiger fans took over Omaha, dwarfing the support from the other seven teams represented. They were incredibly vocal. With the fan support, the SEC and the incredible facilities at Alex Box Stadium, it is hard for any young man to say "no" to LSU, if offered a scholarship.
The Tigers are back where they belong. They had a record-setting season, winning more games than any of their six national championship teams and got to the College World Series. 57-11 is nothing to sneeze at.
Looking ahead, LSU has outfielders Sean McMullen, Mark Laird, Jared Foster, Andrew Stevenson, Chris Sciambra all returning in 2014. On the infield, Ibarra and Bregman should be back, along with Tyler Moore. On the mound, starters Nola and Glenn should return, along with relievers Nate Fury and Kurt McCune. Hunter Newman could step into the rotation.
Of the non-senior LSU players chosen in the draft, Eades is likely to sign pro after being chosen in the second round by Minnesota. The same is true of Jacoby Jones, who went in the third round to Pittsburgh. Nick Rumbelow went to the New York Yankees in the seventh round and Will LaMarche went to Detroit in the ninth round. Catcher Ty Ross was a 12th-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants and Ibarra went in the 32nd-round to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Of that group, Ibarra is most likely to return to LSU though nothing is a given.
Naturally, you win by recruiting. LSU needs some luck with a very impressive group of signees for 2014, in terms of getting a few through without them signing professionally. College baseball recruiting is tough. When you chase the best, you then have to sweat out the draft and those players signing professionally. LSU has taken its fair share of hits over the past several years, losing many top recruits to the professional ranks.
While everyone will remember the sour taste and ending to an otherwise brilliant season, the accomplishments of the season cannot be forgotten. LSU won more SEC games than any other team in school history. Mainieri has guided LSU to three CWS appearances in seven years, with one national title. Mainieri got his Tigers to the World Series in 2008 and came back and won it all in 2009. Perhaps LSU will follow that script, learning through experience and then returning to conquer a year from now. It can happen.
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