OMAHA, Neb. — Too often the final game determines the legacy of a great team. When a season ends the way LSU's did on Tuesday, the disappointment is heavy.
But that can be expected. When a program has a "championship or bust" mentality, that "bust" will hurt for quite some time. The frustration from unfulfilled expectations will linger, but it won't last forever. In five, 10 or 20 years, this team will have a new identity.
But right now, it's hard to see past the gloom. LSU players staring blankly at the field in TD Ameritrade Park is the lasting image of the 2013 College World Series. Not a picture of a LSU dogpile or Paul Mainieri hoisting a trophy.
"The finality of it makes it hard, no matter when it is," Mainieri said. "I'm proud of this team. It was a phenomenal year. We did all kinds of things that had never been done before. But right now, this just stings a little bit."
You can't fault the players and coaches for falling victim to the disappointment. The loss falls hardest on their shoulders, but in time, they'll have different memories from this season.
And the fans will too.
The story will always have the same ending, but the rest will rise to its due prominence. The 57 wins, a school record, will receive its proper praise.
There was a SEC Tournament title, won in thrilling fashion. There was Tyer Moore's game-tying hit in the quarterfinals, Jared Foster's throw against Vanderbilt and Chris Sciambra's 11th-inning single that won it all.
LSU won 13 weekend series, including nine in the SEC and all five on the road.
There were the individual stories. Aaron Nola became one of the best pitchers in the country, and Alex Bregman emerged as an undeniable star. There was Mason Katz, Raph Rhymes, Chris Cotton and the other seniors that gave it one last try in a LSU uniform.
There were 35 players, five coaches and a number of other trainers, managers and physicians that will cherish the four months of this baseball season.
This certainly won't be the end for any of them. Nine current players were taken in this year's MLB Draft, and several more will hear their names called in the coming years. Others will move on to different things, but the one thing remains constant.
They'll all share a memory of playing baseball at LSU. What they remember most is yet to be determined. It's easy to dwell on consecutive losses in the College World Series. After a season of such great accomplishment, losing the last one is that much harder.
But there's so much more to 2013 than what happened in Omaha.
"Eventually we're going to look at what we did do, a pretty remarkable season besides winning the big thing," Katz said. "We had expectations of winning it all, but there's only one team that can. It's unfortunate that we didn't, but overall, I have zero regrets. It was the best season of my life."
Fans will always wonder what could have been, imagine how far this talent could have taken them. But it's no longer time to dwell in the past. A new day has started, and for the guys returning, new goals have been set.
The 2014 Road to Omaha begins today.
A disappointing end to a special season
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