The College World Series and the entire baseball season come down to the No. 1-ranked team in most of the polls vs. the No. 1-seeded team for the NCAA tournament.
They are, in that order, LSU (54-16) and Texas (49-14-1), and they're scheduled to begin a best-of-three championship series at 6 p.m. CDT at Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium and on ESPN.
They are, staying with the above order, the programs of note of the previous and current decades at the College World Series.
LSU won five national championships from 1991-2000. Texas won national titles in 2002 and 2005, was runner-up in 2004 and is gunning for the program's third national championship of the decade, its seventh overall.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri has a chance to win his first national title in his third CWS. Texas coach Augie Garrido won three national championships at Cal State Fullerton and is trying to win his third with the Longhorns.
The Mainieri family already has a national championship. Demie Mainieri, Paul's father, coached Miami-Dade to victory at the 1964 Junior College World Series.
“Father’s Day puts everything in proper perspective,” Paul Mainieri said Sunday at a news conference at Rosenblatt Stadium. “Having my dad here means everything to me. Growing up, all I wanted to be was a college baseball coach. My dad won a national championship in 1964, and I’d love for him to witness his son doing it. Saying that, it’s not about me at all. It’s about the kids and this great experience.”
Let's continue with a mostly serious, sometimes lighthearted, sometimes sideways look at the matchup. On paper ...
In perception and on the stat sheet, LSU and Texas don't appear to have much in common.
The Tigers dwarf the Longhorns in batting average (.318 to .289) and home runs (103 to 45), but LSU's 26 sacrifice bunts are a blip when compared to the 102 by Texas.
The Longhorns play the short game with a consistent devotion, and they've been successful on 71 of 95 stolen base attempts. A speedy LSU team is 112-for-154.
In the decade that made on-base percentage a household term, Texas has an eye-opening 267 walks and 58 times hit by pitch, and then you notice LSU's numbers: 338 walks, 63 times hit by pitch.
If it's on-base percentage you monitor, you already know LSU's .408 makes the .378 of Texas look pedestrian (a walking joke for those of you with the stomach for it
) by comparison.
Finally, Texas leads the nation in earned run average at 2.88, while LSU's 3.99 ERA is respectable but not eye-popping. In reality ...
Mainieri suggested most of the stats above are worth a closer look, especially when they're used to compare LSU and Texas.
“I don’t think the teams are all that different,” Mainieri said. “Our ballparks are built for different things, so their pitching numbers are lower than if they would have played in Baton Rouge. Our hitting numbers are higher because of our ballpark.
“They’ve shown they can hit the ball. Our team is balanced between hitting and pitching. Augie utilizes the sac bunt more than I do. I think he created California small ball. I think the two teams are a lot more similar than what is seen on the surface.” Best-of-three
This is LSU's first taste of the best-of-three championship series, the third for Texas.
“If you’re looking for pure drama, how can you beat a single championship game?” Mainieri asked rhetorically. “The (best-of-three) series tests consistency and pitching. I think the longer series helps determine who the better team is.”
LSU owns the most dramatic moment in College World Series history: a two-out, two-run homer by Warren Morris for a 9-8 comeback victory against Miami in the 1996 championship game.
Consistency was a hallmark of the last championship won by Texas, which came in 2005 and ended with two victories against Florida that made a third game in the best-of-three unnecessary.
“We have three starters that we have totally depended on all year,” Garrido said, referring to his pitching staff. “From the players’ point of view, in only one game, only one player would have the chance to be used in that role.” Coleman vs. Ruffin
For this game, LSU senior right-hander Louis Coleman (14-2, 2.68) will start against Texas sophomore right-hander Chance Ruffin (10-2, 3.27).
Both teams were undefeated in bracket play. Both teams have full pitching staffs available. Team of destiny?
LSU has a season-best 13-game winning streak. The Tigers have either peaked or are peaking at the right time, and we won't know which is the case until the CWS is over.
Coleman hasn't overlooked the amazing stories associated with Texas this postseason. The Longhorns outlasted Boston College 3-2 in 25 innings in the second game of the regional, and in Omaha they twice overcame deficits to defeat Arizona State.
Texas defeated Southern Miss on a game-ending bases-loaded walk in the first round in Omaha. In so many ways, the Longhorns have made a case for the team-of-destiny label.
“They’ve found ways to win and have competed great,” Coleman said.
LSU catcher Micah Gibbs, who grew up near Austin, agreed.
“They kind of scare you. Any team that makes it to the national championship is a team not to be taken lightly,” Gibbs said.
Garrido is clearly having fun trying to explain how Texas continues to do it.
“The way we've been winning, we've added a new assistant coach, David Copperfield,” Garrido joked. “I've been asked if we are going to practice. How do you practice the way we've been winning?
“We are up against a great team that has played the best baseball of anyone so far. They are hitting on all cylinders, but we will just play the game inning by inning, play by play, and hope for the best.” Analysis
What can I tell you that you won't get anywhere else? Hmm. That's a good one. By first pitch, this matchup will have been sliced and diced and looked at from all the normal angles. Most of you know the storylines and stats.
What's left? I'm going to turn my head sideways and see what falls out.
"Play the game inning by inning, play by play, and hope for the best." That's what he said, right? Garrido and his Longhorns will do a little more than that.
The coach is indeed 70 years old, but he knows what time it is -- literally -- and in every game is aware of the relationship between the hour and the sun setting and the effect the latter can have in Omaha.
If an inning goes by without a Texas player laying down a bunt, regardless of the time or the sun's place in the sky, check Garrido's pulse. Still, the coach knows there are ways to add to the pressure he likes to apply to opposing defenses.
Early in the first Texas comeback against Arizona State, a perfectly placed bunt forced a throw to first base at a time when the setting sun made it hard for the first baseman to see the ball coming his way. The convergence of runner and ball and sunset and oncoming Texas rally assisted the Sun Devils in their unraveling.
Garrido is the kind of coach whose attention to detail takes into account all environmental factors, including how the sun field plays into any situation. Another such coach? Skip Bertman, who before he coached LSU was an architect of one of the most famous plays in CWS history
One of the requirements for calling for the Grand Illusion, the pickoff play that helped Miami defeat Wichita State in 1982, was that the situation come at dusk, when lighting on the field of play was not at its best.
Much ado about nothing here? Perhaps, but don't think it's an accident if Texas lays down a bunt when the sun could play a role. Just something for you to keep in mind.
It's that Texas tendency to trade an out for a run by applying short-game pressure that will almost certainly prompt Mainieri to continue to put senior Derek Helenihi in the starting lineup at third base ahead of freshman Tyler Hanover.
Freshman mistakes and ankle problems have limited Hanover's play in the postseason, despite his powerful arm. He hit a double and a home run Friday against Arkansas, but look for Mainieri to go with experience at third base against Garrido's style of baseball.
When Helenihi took over for an injured Michael Hollander in 2008, Florida tried to test Helenihi by bunting to third base. Helenihi had an outstanding defensive weekend that, had it unfolded at Alex Box Stadium, LSU fans would be referencing in large numbers today.
Mainieri has a long memory when it comes to Helenihi's abilities against the short game.
That said, Texas won the national championship in 2005 by lulling people into the rhythm of the a-bunt-an-inning approach, pitching superbly ... and then slamming the critical home run when necessary. Garrido's teams require multi-dimensional thinking on the part of opponents.
People talk about Texas and "small ball" as if they're getting a $5 stipend every time they use the term, but the Longhorns hit two home runs in the bottom of the ninth to rally for the last victory against Arizona State.
They've got LSU's attention.
Garrido had a comeback ready when Mainieri wondered how Texas could be considered the underdog when it was the overall No. 1 seed for the postseason.
“The last No. 1 seed to win the national title was in 1999,” Garrido said, referring to the Miami Hurricanes' championship in the first year of the top-eight-national-seed concept.
LSU is not a bad bet to keep Texas from becoming the first No. 1 seed to break that streak. The Tigers have balance, speed, confidence and 13 players who played in the College World Series last year -- and came back on a mission this time.
Texas is in Omaha for the first time since 2005, so no Longhorns had CWS experience until that victory against Southern Miss. No matter, Texas is in the finals, but lacking a sense of unfinished business, the Longhorns might be missing some of the most important fuel driving LSU players.
Coleman probably feels it more sharply than any of his teammates. He gave up the ninth-inning grand slam that lifted North Carolina to a 7-3 victory that ended LSU's stay at the 2008 College World Series.
“I replayed it so many different times. It’s hard to lose the memory as a pitcher,” Coleman said Sunday. “I’ve thought about it, but when I step on the mound it is a totally different ballgame.”
This game, tonight, is ultimately why he came back to LSU for his senior season. This is it. The team of destiny vs. the pitcher of destiny?
If LSU continues its run of error-free baseball at this CWS, advantage Tigers. They win it in two. If not, the Longhorns will be better able to dictate tempo and style, probably force a third game and probably win it in the bottom of the ninth.
Or the 25th. -- -- -- Schedule
The schedule for the championship series: Today
6 p.m. CDT
LSU (visitor) vs. Texas (home) Tuesday
6 p.m. CDT
Texas (visitor) vs. LSU (home) Wednesday
6 p.m. CDT
LSU (visitor) vs. Texas (home) .
began covering LSU sports on a regular basis in 1999. He thinks it would probably be better for an SEC team to face the 1927 New York Yankees than any team coached by Augie Garrido at the College World Series. Like many of you, Carl will be watching the championship series on ESPN. You can contact him by writing carl1061 'at' gmail.com.