LSU Goes For Seventh College World Series Championship

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Tigers Go For Seven In College Baseball Heaven

By John Ventola

LSU baseball fans have enjoyed three decades of success and the team annually leads the NCAA in home attendance, but this weekend loyal purple and gold followers will again be streaming into Nebraska for the 2015 College World Series. The Tigers won five national championships under the tutelage of Skip Bertman at old Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, and added a sixth title in 2009 under Paul Mainieri, a year before the stadium was closed. Now it is time to go for No. 7 in what many consider collegiate “Baseball Heaven”, Omaha, Nebraska, TD Ameritrade Park.

This year’s College World Series appearance marks the Tigers seventeenth trip, and amazingly the team never lost in its five trips to single championship games (1991,

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LSU Has Perfect Final Game Record At CWS

1993, 1996, 1997, 2000), or in a  finals determined by winning two-of-three (2009). Bertman had an uncanny knack of making outstanding baseball decisions that led to him winning all five of his title games.

Whether he was, maneuvering a talented, deep squad with an excellent reliever (Rick Greene,1991), priming a freshman pitcher (Brett Laxton, 1993) for one of the best pitching performances in CWS history ,staying with a star who had been injured most of the year (Warren Morris, 1996), adjusting his recruiting to play Gorilla Ball (1997), or using his entire bag of baseball motivation to keep a talented group focused on another ninth-inning comeback (Jeremy Witten and Blair Barbier homers, Brad Cresse’s winning base hit, 2000), Bertman put LSU baseball on the map.

Bertman’s “Omaha Magic” was spectacular. His more talented teams all seemed to step it up a notch late in the season, and entered Omaha ready to utilize their many talents while taking advantage of weaknesses detected with any of their opponents. While he

LSU

Bertman Won First Title In Fifth CWS Appearance

won all five of his finals, other Bertman CWS teams, probably just as talented as any of his five winners, were struck by baseball fate, a ball hit off the end of aluminum reaching the outfield for a hit, a grounder sneaking through the infield, a slump by key players, an injury to a top pitcher (Mark Guthrie, 1987), or a pitch left high (Ben McDonald, 1987, eventual champion Stanford hitting a ninth-inning grand slam homer).

Bertman loved to quote his old Miami Hurricanes mentor Ron Fraser on the key to CWS success, and I paraphrase here—-you have to get hot at the right time. Fraser used the formula to bring back national titles (1982, 1985) to Coral Gables, and Bertman used lessons learned, and his own baseball knowledge to garner his five trophies.

The Southeastern Conference (SEC) will have four teams competing for the 2015 title, Arkansas, LSU, Florida, and last year’s national champion Vanderbilt. Arkansas will

sec

SEC Will Have Four Teams For Fourth Time

play Virginia Saturday, while Florida will face Miami. LSU will open with TCU Sunday while Vanderbilt will go against Cal State-Fullerton. Based on seasonal results, there is a high probability that two SEC schools will face off in the best two-of-three series for the title.

Paul Mainieri has announced he will start sophomore left-hander Jared Poche against TCU. The Horned Frogs (49-13) bested SEC foe Texas A & M in a 16-inning battle to capture its Fort Worth Super Regional. The squad is packed with left-handed hitters, possibly playing a major role in Mainieri’s decision to start Poche over the Tigers ace, right-hander Alex Lange. TCU’s pitching staff has the nation’s second lowest ERA with an impressive staff mark of 2.38.  Poche will have to again be sharp, and repeat the performances he fashioned in Regional and Super Regional victories over UNC-Wilmington and UL-Lafayette.

If Poche and the Tigers often-maligned bullpen is able to survive Sunday, Lange will be ready to face the defending champion Commodores. A win there (and I am assuming Vandy will easily handle CS-Fullerton), and the Tigers would secure the catbird seat occupied by any two-game unbeaten in a four team double elimination format.

Poche, Lange, and some relievers need to produce, but LSU’s experienced position players will have to snap out of their post-season slumps if the team is going to have the type of series their season long high ranking indicates. Four games, two each

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Tiger Hitters Need To Return To Early Season Form

against UNC-Wilmington and UL-Lafayette, featured a lower than normal batting average, base running blunders, and lack of clutch hitting with runners on base. All aspects of the game will have to improve in Omaha if the Tigers are to beat Vanderbilt and Florida.

The Commodores and Gators have each been stroking the ball well in the playoffs, Vandy  batting an NCAA tournament best .354 with nine homers in five games, and Florida’s JJ Schwartz leading the tournament in home runs (four), RBI’s (11), and total bases (26). Both teams are solid throughout their lineups, and Vanderbilt has two of the best starting pitchers in college baseball, Carson Fulmer and Walker Buehler. No. 1 professional draft pick Dansby Swanson is the glue that holds it all together with his overall play at shortstop and a potent bat.

LSU lost two straight in 2013, 2-1 to UCLA, and 4-2 to North Carolina. No. 2 draft pick Alex Bregman, Andrew Stevenson, Mark Laird, and Jared Foster remain from that team. It is hoped an additional two years of experience for each, a redesign of the baseball used in the college sport, and better on field performances, will result in the Tigers seventh national championship.

Seven would be heaven.

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