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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. 

Louisiana comes to Kansas City

If you’re in Kansas City today, I have two words for you: AIR CONDITIONING. And lots of it.

There is an excessive heat warning in effect for the Kansas City area, which extends south on Interstate 49 to the Arkansas state line, and then into Kansas and Oklahoma. There is a heat advisory as far west as Salina and far east as Columbia. Summer is here in case you didn’t know it. Yes, summer does not officially start until Wednesday, but it was here on Memorial Day, and it is now unleashing its fully fury. 

The heat indicies they’re talking about in Kansas City today are common in Louisiana this time of year. Yes, I realize Kansas City gets hot and the humidity is worse than it is in Russell and points west, but this is oppressive. I hate to think how bad it gets in St. Louis. 

It stormed again last night. I went to bed a few minutes after midnight, just when it was getting cranked up. It didn’t prevent me from falling asleep. I finally got up at 9–there was no reason to really get up early–and made my way to Buffalo Wild Wings for a Saturday of trivia. I’ll eventually cross Barry Road and go to Minsky’s, where I went for an hour and a half yesterday. I was looking to go back in the evening, but when I went at 7, the parking lot was completely full. So I went back to Buffalo Wild Wings and played more trivia with Robb and Dawn, leaving at 8:30. 

I ate lunch with Peggy and Caitlyn yesterday at Yard House in the Legends shopping plaza, where the Kansas Speedway and Children’s Mercy Park, home of Sporting KC of Major League Soccer, are located. I really wanted to go for a steak or a big piece of fish, but I opted to just get the sashimi. Peggy paid, and I didn’t want to take advantage of her generosity. I hadn’t seen either of them since early May, and this was the first extended time I spent with them since the end of the basketball season in late February. 

The U.S. Open gollf tournmaent is in the thrid round in Wisconsin. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day all missed the cut. Jordan Spieth is well off the lead. Phil Mickelson didn’t even play, choosing to attend his daughter’s high school graduation in San Diego. Eldrick Woods? WHO CARES? Rickie Fowler is the biggest name in contention, trailing by one stroke at 8-under. He shot 71 yesterday after a 65 Thursday, which tied for the best opening round in U.S. Open history. 

Johnson will not be able to repeat as U.S. Open champion. It hasn’t been done since Curtis Strange did it in 1988 and ’89. This is the second consecutive major in which the defending champion has missed the cut; it happened to Danny Willett at The Masters. Willett has basically fallen off the face of the earth since winning at Augusta National 14 months ago. Sergio Garcia made the cut, but he’s probably too far back to make a run. 

People have complained about Erin Hills, the course hosting the tournament for the first time. Many do not like new courses thrown into the mix of the traditional sites, which include Oakmont, Winged Foot, Shinnecock Hills, Baltusrol, Pebble Beach, Congressional, Lower Merion and Bethpage Black. Those players may have a point.
The College World Series starts in one hour. Cal State Fullerton and Oregon State, which has won 21 consecutive games and is the top ranked team in every poll, as well as the #1 national seed, open the festivities in Omaha. Then it’s LSU and Florida State at 7.  LSU is aiming for its seventh national championship and its second under Paul Mainieri, who led the Bayou Bengals to the title in 2009 at Rosenblatt Stadium, the penultimate year the CWS was played there. It moved to TD Ameritrade Park in downtown Omaha in 2011. LSU has not fared well there, going 1-4 in two appearances, including an 0-2 trip (coloquially referred to as “Two and Barbecue” in college baseball lingo) in 2013 when LSU entered 57-9 and the #1 national seed. 

I went to Omaha in 1998 and 2003. Great experiences, but I am not big on the crowds. I certainly do not want to be in the heat, and not in the general admission seats in the outfield, where if you leave your seat, you might as well leave the park, because someone will swipe it. General admission seating is a terrible idea for college and professional sports. TERRIBLE. The NCAA should outlaw that for the CWS and other Division I events. 

LSU has won 15 consecutive games, and is 21-2 since I saw the series at Kentucky. Bill Franques, who is attending his 16th CWS as LSU’s baseball publicity director, told me as we departed April 23 he didn’t see LSU making it to Omaha, and he was worried LSU would have to travel for a REGIONAL. LSU has played in a regional away from Baton Rouge only once since 1990, in 2010 at UCLA, when it lost twice to UC Irvine. LSU did not make the NCAA tournament in 2006, 2007 and 2011. 

LSU’s prospects in a road super regional would have been very iffy, considering it is 1-6 all-time in super regionals away from Alex Box Stadium (old and new): 0-2 at Alabama in 1999, 1-2 at Tulane in 2001, and 0-2 at Rice in 2002. The 2002 super regional saw LSU get shut out in both games, the only time that’s happened. 

The other bracket tomorrow has Louisville playing Texas A&M and Florida battling TCU. TCU beat LSU twice in the 2015 CWS. The Horned Frogs are in Omaha for the fourth consecutive year under former Tulane assistant Jim Schlossnagle, doing something LSU has never done. LSU made it three straight years from 1989-91 and again from 1996-98, but never four. 

UGH. Some employee at Buffalo Wild Wings is playing nothing but horrendous hip-hop. I’m already getting nauseous.