For the first time since 2009, the Tigers of LSU will be returning to the College World Series in Omaha on their road to a National Championship. After seeing the Tigers tear through their regular season schedule, it should come as no surprise to college baseball fans that they will have an opportunity to once again hoist the trophy when the dust settles.
Throughout LSU's 2013 season – in which they compiled a record of 57-9 – a lot has happened and numerous players have received recognitions. Perhaps the biggest storyline of the year has been freshman shortstop Alex Bregman from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Bregman burst onto the scene very early on in the season after head coach Paul Mainieri raved about his abilities throughout the offseason. Bregman was eventually named NCBWA National Freshman of the Year after he compiled a batting average of .380 with six homeruns.
It certainly didn't hurt LSU's chances when senior Mason Katz had a season to remember as well. Throughout the first half of the 2013 season, Katz was hitting near the .400 mark with 13 homeruns. He didn't a second half on par with the first, but he still turned in a phenomenal season that resulted in him being drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.
One player that didn't perform up to last year's standards was senior Raph Rhymes. However, anything compared to his 2012 season would be a let down. Rhymes still hit .343 with four homeruns in 2013 while hitting behind Bregman and Katz for most of the season.
While all three players performed admirably between the lines throughout the season, the one constant with all three is their ability to lead their team through thick and thin.
With them being in the program for several years, it was already known what kinds of leadership qualities both Rhymes and Katz had. From the minute both arrived in Baton Rouge to suit up in the purple and gold, they had one goal in mind – to make it to Omaha in their careers. After three long years for Rhymes and four for Katz, both seniors finally have something to hang their hats on for their time at LSU.
Katz and Rhymes are players that lead by example. In other words, when they talk, the rest of the team listens because they've seen it all in their time playing college baseball.
Throughout the offseason, Paul Mainieri raved about the leadership that he would have on his 2013 squad because of the numerous seniors and the fact that he had guys like Rhymes and Katz that had taken the reigns of the program.
Mainieri knew that Alex Bregman would be a special player immediately for the Tigers, but almost no one could have predicted that he would have had quite the season that he did. While that may be the case, it became very apparent throughout the season just why Bregman was having as much success as he was.
Following games, and victories at that, Bregman could be seen taking reps in the field or in the cages long after the stands had cleared and the team had met with members of the media.
It's this kind of work ethic that Mainieri knew he was getting when Bregman stepped foot in Baton Rouge. Regardless of his age, Bregman has that "it" factor that coaches and scouts hunt for in players. In fact, Katz and Rhymes will be the first ones to say that they learned a lot from Bregman this year.
With the way the season went, it would appear that the entire team took pages out of the books of Rhymes, Katz and Bregman.
Before 2013, the leadership established a norm around the team that Omaha was the ultimate goal, especially with the bad taste that was left in their mouths following the 2012 season. Through working together and sticking together, LSU believed they could make it to Omaha.
One look back at the regular season shows that this team was one that worked towards one goal together.
While guys like Bregman, Katz and Rhymes were the foundation of the leadership on this team, it didn't stop there. Qualities of leadership can be seen in nearly every facet of the game, from pitching to defense, where guys like Chris Cotton and Ty Ross were also part of the glue that held the team together.
Overall, the 2013 LSU Tigers could be used as an example for every program around the country of what really makes a team a team.
It's been several years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears for guys like Katz and Rhymes, but 2013 might just be the year for the Bayou Bengals.
COLUMN: Leadership key for LSU
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