Commentary

LSU's championship had perfect timing

Tigers will lose key players while Texas looks to return to Omaha with loaded lineup

Originally Published: June 25, 2009
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- From Texas' 25-inning victory over Boston College to Florida State's 37-6 demolition of Ohio State, the 2009 NCAA baseball tournament featured plenty of drama and jaw-dropping results.

In the end, though, two of the sport's traditional heavyweights battled in a deciding game of the College World Series championship series at Rosenblatt Stadium.

And LSU, which just three years ago wasn't good enough to play in the SEC tournament, defeated Texas 11-4 on Wednesday night to win its sixth national championship.

[+] EnlargeFSU-OSU
AP Photo/Steve CannonFlorida State's epic 38-hit, 37-6 win over Ohio State in the Tallahassee Regional won't soon be forgotten.

"We had a wonderful group of kids," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "They've done everything we've asked them to do. They did everything they needed to do to be called champions."

LSU's CWS championship capped one of the most remarkable two-year runs in college baseball history. The Tigers closed the 2008 season by winning 26 of their final 29 games, including an SEC-record 23 in a row. Since April 22, 2008, LSU has won 82 of its past 102 games.

The Tigers' sixth title tied the Longhorns for second-most in NCAA history. (USC has won 12.) LSU also is the first national seed to win the CWS title since Rice in 2003.

"If there is a better way [to end my career], write the story for me," said LSU outfielder Jared Mitchell, whose three-run homer gave LSU a 3-0 lead in the first inning of the deciding game. "It's been so much fun to accomplish something like this with these players."

The Tigers probably will lose many of their most important players. Mitchell, who was named most outstanding player of the CWS, was a first-round draft choice of the Chicago White Sox. Sophomore second baseman D.J. LeMahieu was a second-round pick of the Chicago Cubs, and junior outfielder Ryan Schimpf went in the fifth round to the Toronto Blue Jays. Designated hitter Blake Dean and first baseman Sean Ochinko are expected to turn pro, too. And starting pitcher Louis Coleman, a fifth-round choice of the Kansas City Royals, and third baseman Derek Helenihi are seniors.

Mainieri, who won his first national championship as LSU's coach, seems resigned to losing most of his team's top players.

"If any of you guys want to come back, it would be fine with me," Mainieri joked to several of his players during the postgame news conference Wednesday night.

Former LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman, who guided the Tigers to five national championships from 1991 to 2000, said this LSU team was as good as any he coached in Omaha.

"This team measures up to any team I had," Bertman said. "I think years from now you'll see why. I think you'll see seven or eight of these guys move on to play professional and major league ball."

[+] EnlargeJared Mitchell
Elsa/Getty ImagesFirst-round draft pick Jared Mitchell is one of several players who won't be around to help LSU defend its title next year.

Texas played like a champion until the very end, too. To reach the CWS championship series, the Longhorns needed their epic 3-2 victory over Boston College in the second game of the Austin Regional and three come-from-behind victories in Omaha.

After losing to LSU 7-6 in 11 innings Monday night, the Longhorns got one of the most dominant pitching performances in recent CWS history from freshman Taylor Jungmann the next night. He threw a complete game in Texas' 5-1 victory in Game 2 of the championship series to force the winner-take-all game Wednesday.

Texas, which won national championships in 2002 and 2005, finished runner-up for the second time in the past five seasons.

"Once is enough to finish second," Texas coach Augie Garrido said.

The Longhorns will be in good position to return to Omaha for the seventh time in nine seasons next year. They'll lose three senior starters -- third baseman Michael Torres, second baseman Travis Tucker and left fielder Preston Clark. Closer Austin Wood, a fifth-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers, is a senior, and junior first baseman Brandon Belt might turn pro after being drafted in the fifth round by the San Francisco Giants.

But overall, this was one of Garrido's youngest Texas teams. Many of the team's top pitchers -- Jungmann, Cole Green and Chance Ruffin -- were underclassmen.

"I honestly believe this is the beginning of a new era of Texas baseball in Omaha," Garrido said.

Garrido, who won five national championships as coach at Cal State Fullerton and Texas, said he'd be back next season to try to win a title again.

"For me, this is a lifestyle," said Garrido, who turned 70 in February. "It's not a job. As long as I'm healthy and feel the way I do about the players and continue to be effective, this is what I want to do."

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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