by Carl DuboisJune 26, 2009 7:28 AM
In some ways, everyone at the 2009 College World Series lived up to -- or down to -- expectations.
Southern Miss was two-and-barbecue, what Omaha traditionalists expect from a first-time CWS participant.
North Carolina, there for the fourth consecutive year, and first-time participant Virginia extended the ACC's streak of years without a national champion to 54. Those guys from Wake Forest's 1955 team could pop the cork on the champagne bottle and drink up once more (gratuitous Miami Dolphins reference).
Arizona State and Cal State Fullerton are frequent enough visitors to Omaha to put the CWS on the calendar every December when they go to Barnes & Noble to buy a new one, so it surprised no one they were there. That neither made the final series, again, is a testament to how difficult it is for programs with multiple national championships to add to the trophy case.
Arkansas, which lost eight consecutive SEC games down the stretch, reminded us you can get there by getting hot at the right time. Nobody really expected the Razorbacks to win it, and the right SEC team was indeed the last to leave town.
Texas came within a single victory of living up to the selection committee's seeding of the Longhorns as No. 1 for the postseason. Then, Texas did what every No. 1 seed has done since the first to have that designation (Miami in 1999) won the CWS. The Longhorns failed to win it.
Their coach, Augie Garrido, found his way to Rosenblatt Stadium again, found a path to the final game again. You'd like to see what he could do with the Bad News Bears.
LSU (56-17) won more games than any other team in the country, started and finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in at least one poll, and turned the most individual CWS experience in the eight-team field into a championship. It's entirely possible the Tigers didn't see a better team than Rice after defeating the Owls for the right to go to Omaha.
Tom Shatel and others at the Omaha World-Herald continued to write of the love affair between LSU fans and the city, an updated version of the play and film "Same Time, Next Year." The rest of the year, partying without the other will in some ways feel like bittersweet, subtle infidelity to the purple and gold and the barstools at Barrett's Barleycorn.
LSU beat Virginia, beat Arkansas twice and sandwiched victories against Texas around a lone defeat in Omaha, a humbling loss in a pitching gem that was yet another reminder of how quickly the game can humble you and break your heart. The 14-game winning streak over, the Tigers went out the next day and made everything right again.
Not everything went according to script. Anthony Ranaudo had to spend most of his time in Nebraska eager to get back on the mound after not pitching like the better version of himself the first time around. LSU won in Louis Coleman's first start, but Coleman wasn't the winning pitcher after giving up five solo home runs.
The best defense of LSU's six national championship teams was almost perfect at the CWS, and yet the most valuable player on the team, the rock-steady catcher Micah Gibbs, was the one to make the lone throwing error. It was followed by the only other error, a catcher's interference call later in the same game -- the loss to Texas. Without Gibbs, the Tigers never make it to Omaha, and we suspect the error two-step is one of those things only the pages of history will remember in 10 and 20 years.
What the Tigers proved is what they'd been saying about themselves all season, that when this guy or that guy was not performing up to par, others would step forward to "pick him up." They all had their turns helping LSU win the national championship.
The Tigers won without a Coleman victory in the best-of-three championship series. They won without a save from Matty Ott, who was the winning pitcher in Coleman's final start. Maybe that's another definition of a closer.
The way the two, Coleman and Ott, were linked this season, perhaps it's best that way. One probably wouldn't have had the chance to thrive without the other, and so the SEC Pitcher of the Year and the SEC Co-Freshman of the Year get to celebrate a championship they played major roles in winning.
Jared Mitchell hit the first-inning three-run homer Wednesday to get LSU off to a good start, and the first-round draft choice of the Chicago White Sox was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series. A change in the batting order for the final game put a lot of pieces together to help make that, and more, happen for the Tigers.
With each passing day at the CWS, LSU looked like a team that had all of the ingredients. Coaches looking for weaknesses really couldn't find a significant one, and the Tigers largely played that way.
How large? Six national championships large. Big, tall dogpile in the middle of the infield large. Update the Intimidator large.
When it ended, everyone had to go home, or to summer leagues, or to professional baseball or some version of the first day of the rest of their lives. You can't stay in Omaha forever, except in folklore and memories and tall tales that get taller with time.
This championship requires no embellishment. LSU played like the best team in college baseball, and the Tigers won its national championship.
There are settle-it-on-the-field postseason games that put to rest the offseason arguments. LSU's 11-4 victory Wednesday against Texas was that kind of game.
Carl Dubois began writing about LSU sports on a regular basis in 1999. He went to bed at a reasonable hour Thursday night and got up early, way too early for a sportswriter, to bang out this CWS wrapup column. As you read this sentence, he is probably drinking coffee. You can contact Carl by writing carl1061 'at' gmail.com.
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