Bayou Bengals and Greenies again

LSU’s baseball team travels to New Orleans tonight to renew one of only two athletic series it maintains with one-time Southeastern Conference rival Tulane. 

The Bayou Bengals and Green Wave met on the gridrion every year between 1919 and 1994. The men’s basketball teams played regularly until 1983, when LSU coach Dale Brown discontinued it after Tulane insisted on playing its home games in its cramped bandbox areana on campus instead of the Superdome, where Bayou Bengal fans outnumbered Green Wave fans 15 to 1. 

The football series didn’t matter to LSU nearly as much after Tulane left the SEC in July 1966. Besides, the state school from Baton Rouge dominated the series to the point where the Green Wave were at best outclassed and at worst noncompetitive, as evidneced by three 62-0 losses in eight seasons between 1958 and 1965. 

Tulane kept demanding LSU play home-and-home. LSU said no, because they should not have to give up a large gate at Tiger Stadium to play in front of a half-empty Superdome. 

The blame for the end of the series rests with the Tulane alumni. They are the ones demanding LSU play in New Orleans. Tulane’s adminiatration probably realizes it would make more playing in Baton Rouge than it could anywhere else since there would be no travel expenses, and LSU’s stadium seats 102,000. Even if Tulane were given just 20 percent of the gate, that’s $750,000 minimum. 

The baseball series has always been played, but it began to take on a special intensity in May 1986. 

That season, Tulane had its best team up until that time. The Green Wave built a strong record by playing a national schedule (Tulane had been expelled from the Metro Conference after a point shaving scandal shut down the men’s basketball program) and was rewarded with a berth in the NCAA South II Regional.

LSU was even better than Tulane in 1986. In his third season as skipper, Skip Bertman had built a budding dynasty, one which won its first 18 games and eventually rolled to the SEC championship by going 22-5 in the league. The Bayou Bengals were ranked first for much of the season and earned the right to host a regional for the first time. 

To the delight of sports fans across Louisiana, LSU and Tulane reached the championship round, disposing of Eastern Kentucky, Jackson State, Loiuisiana Tech and Oklahoma. The Green Wave lost earlier in the tournament to Tech, while the Bayou Bengals defeated Jackson State, Oklahoma and Tech, meaning Tulane had to beat LSU twice to reach the College World Series. 

Tulane looked like it just might do that. They held the lead for most of the game and were on their way to forcing a second winner-take-all title game when the Bayou Bengals roared to life. 

LSU came back to take a 7-6 lead in the top of the eighth–the Bayou Bengals were the visiting team–when Mother Nature intervened.

As she is prone to do on a south Louisiana day in late May, Mother Nature unleashed her wrath on Alex Box Stadium. 

Not only did the field quickly become unplayable, many areas of the field became submerged. The game was suspended until the next day, Memorial Day.

LSU called in helicopters from Acadian Ambulance to dry the field, and by noon, it was ready to go. 

The Bayou Bengals held on to their 7-6 lead and were on their way to Omaha. They would go on to win five national championships under Bertman, and four more times (1987, 1994, 1996, 1998) LSU won a regional which also invovlved Tulane. 

Then came the first three days of June 2001. 

Bertman announced in July 2000, a month after winning the fifth national title with a dramatic victory over Stanford, the 2001 season would be his last. To help him go out on top, LSU aggressively recruited junior college stars and those at four-year schools looking to transfer.

Tulane also was a national power in 2001. In contrast to Bertman, Green Wave coach Rick Jones had built his team largely through recruiting high school players. Tulane is an academically stringent university, and while most of Jones’ players made the grade, a few were admitted with lower guidelines in place for select athletes. 

LSU and Tulane were locks to host regionals by mid-April. By the first week of May, the question was, could both also host super regionals, the best-of-three series for regional winners which was added in 1999 to determine the eight schools which went to Omaha? 

That’s when LSU’s season went totally south. 

The Bayou Bengals were ranked No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll following a three-game sweep at Alabama. Next up was a trip to Arkansas, which was mired in the SEC West basement for the second consecutive year and carried a spectacularly inept 4-19 conference record into the series with league leading LSU.

When the Bayou Bengals left Fayetteville, LSU was now the proverbial Sisyphus. 

The Razorbacks swept the series. Auburn then came to Baton Rouge and won two of three to close the regular season. LSU reached the SEC Tournament final, but the NCAA did not deem it worthy of hosting a super regoinal.

Tulane, however, did get the nod. If it could survive its regional at its on-campus Turchin Stadium, it would host the next round at Zephyr Field, the Triple-A stadium in the western suburb of Metairie. 

Both LSU and Tulane won their regionals, so it came down to three games between the anicent rivals for a trip to Omaha.

The Bayou Bengals won game one 5-4 in 13 innings. It would be the 870th–and last–victory of Bertman’s 18-year tenure at LSU.

The Green Wave roared back and won the next two games 7-1 and 9-4 to clinch their first CWS berth. 

The rivalry has cooled a bit since Tulane has fallen off, but this year, the Green Wave got off to a fast start and thus are chomping at the bit to get at LSU. 

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on March 24, 2015, in College Baseball, LSU and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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