LSU will return to the College World Series for the first time since winning it all in 2009 after defeating Oklahoma with a 11-1 victory Saturday at Alex Box Stadium. The Tigers remain undefeated in the 2013 NCAA Tournament and lifted a major monkey of their back after last season's debacle against Stony Brook.
LSU overcame an early one-run deficit, scoring 11 unanswered with a six-run ninth inning that sent off the Tigers in front of a record crowd of 11,401.
"It's been a long 365 days," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "The last time we were up here it was a pretty sad day for us. This doesn't erase the hurt…but this does take away some of that bitter taste that we had."
For the four-year seniors — Mason Katz, Chris Cotton and Alex Edward — they avoided becoming the first class to miss Omaha since 1982. All three, including several others making their final appearance on the hallowed grounds of Skip Bertman Field, played a part in bringing LSU the win.
"You don't have to convince guys about what the goal is around here," Katz said. "Everybody kept preaching how we were the only senior class, if we didn't go to Omaha this year, that wouldn't go in a four-year span. The freshman and the new guys just took that and ran with it. They did everything, and anything, all year long to get us to this point."
Though Oklahoma scored first on a one-out single in the opening frame, LSU answered right back and continued to pile on until they piled on each other in a celebratory mass of champions.
LSU tied it in the second inning on a JaCoby Jones RBI-single, then the Tigers scored a run in each of the third, fourth, sixth and eighth innings.
Mark Laird came home on an error by the Oklahoma first-baseman. Jared Foster tacked on a run with a single to left-center. Ty Ross added another on a safety squeeze. Then Jones scored himself with a solo homer in the eighth.
That blast put LSU on top 5-1 with one inning to go, and though the Tigers added plenty of insurance, Mainieri knew then that his team had it wrapped up.
"When it got to [that point], and we had Chris Cotton on the mound, I thought we had a pretty good chance," Mainieri said. "You don't put the bats away. You don't count anything yet, but I was starting to enjoy it a little bit."
And Cotton came through. He picked up the pitching torch after Ryan Eades, Will LaMarche and Nick Rumbelow held Oklahoma to one run on five hits in seven innings. Cotton retired all six batters he faced, the final one popping out to Jones for the final out.
The out that sent the Tigers back to Omaha.
"The goal when you step foot on campus is to get to Omaha," Rhymes said. "We had a chance and we took advantage of it tonight."
But before LSU could depart for the college baseball Mecca, the Tigers needed their proper sendoff in Baton Rouge. In that six-run ninth inning, several LSU players received ovations after their final at-bats in Alex Box Stadium.
Katz popped out. Rhymes had a two-RBI double. Jones and Ross — two juniors that will likely turn pro — would eventually score runs. Even Edward, who had eight RBI this season, brought in a run with a single to left.
Each one returned to the dugout with thousands of purple and gold-clad fans on their feet.
"That was definitely one of the more special moments I've ever been a part of," Rhymes said. "Words can't really explain the feeling you get. That's why we have the best fans in the country. No place does it like this."
That win was LSU's 57th of the season, which ties a school and SEC record. But five more would provide the Tigers with the ultimate prize — the program's seventh national championship.
"You always feel relieved in this business when you accomplish something," Mainieri said. "We wanted to win this thing really badly. Fortunately we did…We had to set a record in order to go to Omaha. It's pretty amazing when you think about it that way."
Next stop: Omaha
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