Another NCAA season in the books
The 2017 Division I college baseball season, and the entire 2016-17 NCAA athletic calendar for that matter, ended at 10:26 p.m. Central Daylight Time last night when Florida recorded the final out of its 6-1 victory over LSU in the second game of the College World Series championship series.
The Gators won their first baseball national championship, joining a very select list of schools which have won national championships in football, men’s basketball and baseball.
Only four have done it since the Associated Press began its major college football poll in 1936. Two of the four are Big Ten Conference archrivals Michigan and Ohio State. UCLA, which has one championship each in football and baseball and 11 in men’s basketball, was the third until Florida. Two of UCLA’s Pacific-12 Conference rivals, California and Stanford, each claim national championships, but those were retroactively awarded by math formulas or other polls.
Florida, Michigan and UCLA have also won national championships in softball.
LSU, which won national championships in 1991, ’93, ’96, ’97, 2000 and 2009, came up short for the first time when making the CWS final round. The end of the CWS in the full double-elimination era (1950-87) depended upon how many teams were left after 12 games. The series could end in 14 games if one team went undefeated, or 15 if nobody did. In 1988, the format was changed to a single championship game contested between the winners of two four-team brackets. The best-of-3 series began in 2003.
The Bayou Bengals were left for dead in Omaha after losing 13-1 to Oregon State June 19. The Beavers improved to 56-4 and won their 23rd consecutive game. LSU defeated Florida State to stay alive, but then would have to beat Oregon State twice to reach the championship series.
Not only did LSU end Oregon State’s winning streak with a 3-1 decision last Friday, it completed the comeback the next day, 6-1. The Beavers collected only five hits over two games. FIVE. Thus Oregon State finished the year with a .903 winning percentage, but did not even play for the title.
LSU did this before.
In 1989, LSU was in the regional at College Station, where Texas A&M entered the tournament 55-5. The Aggies, who smashed the Southwest Conference that year, outscored their first three regional foes (Jackson State, BYU and South Alabama) 65-13. LSU lost its second game to South Alabama, and thus had to defeat UNLV and the Jaguars on day three to advance to the final round, where it would need to defeat A&M twice.
The Bayou Bengals pulled it off somehow. They won the first game 13-5 behind Golden Spikes Award winner Ben McDonald. In the winner take all game, McDonald came on in relief in the 10th inning and earned the win as LSU prevailed 5-4.
LSU didn’t win the championship this year, but the season was far from a failure. Quite the opposite.
When Bill Franques and I parted company at 5 p.m. ET in Lexington the afternoon of April 23, neither of us had much confidence LSU would be one of the eight to make it to Omaha. LSU was 27-15 overall and 10-8 in the SEC after dropping two to Kentucky and needing an eighth-inning rally to pick up the one win it got. Some projections had LSU going on the road for a regional, and its chances of hosting a super regional were slim and none.
Yet LSU steamrolled its way through the rest of the regular season (winning a share of the SEC championship) and the SEC tournament to earn the #4 national seed, one spot below Florida. The Bayou Bengals went 5-0 at home and were on their way to Omaha for the 18th time.
I didn’t get emotional over the CWS this year. There were times in the past where I would get upset that I wasn’t in Omaha. I would let jealousy get the best of me, because people I knew were there and I wasn’t.
This year, I felt fine with being at home. I did not want to pay exorbitant prices for hotels (a halfway decent hotel costs over $200 per night during the CWS, and if you want to stay close to TD Ameritrade Park, you can expect to pay at least $350 a night), fight all the crowds and the heat just to sit in the bleachers. Reserved tickets on the secondary market for LSU games ran anywhere from $150 to $700. LSU games were twice as much as other games. The only other school I can see driving ticket prices that high is Nebraska. Of course, the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau doesn’t like the Cornhuskers in the CWS, because their fans will commute back and forth from Lincoln.
If I ever go again, I’ll probably have to stay in Kansas City or St. Joseph and commute the 2 1/2 hours up Interstate 29. But I don’t see it happening.
Here’s the good news for LSU: if history repeats tself, it will win it all in 2018.
Since winning their first title in 1991, the Bayou Bengals have won every nine years. They did it in 2000 and 2009, so 2018 is ripe.
Need a break from college sports. Football hype is too much for me to take in late June. It’s only going to get worse.