Different Paths, Same Destination

OMAHA, Neb. – Could things be setting up for LSU any better? Winners of a season-high 13 straight, the Tigers have most recently been on the victorious end of three lopsided contests in Omaha. On the flipside, Texas – the tournament's No. 1 seed – has had to press their luck. Come Monday, it is all water under the bridge.

LSU head coach Paul Mainieri is not hesitant to take notice of his teams’ recent success.

“Even back when we beat Rice in the Super Regional, we did not hit as well as we could have,” he said. “We are now playing our best baseball.”

The numbers don’t lie.

LSU has not lost since May 20, when they dropped the opening game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament to Vanderbilt, 4-1. In that time, the Tigers have outscored their opponents 102-45.

Toss in Anthony Ranaudo and Louis Coleman - who have a combined 25 wins and 2.78 ERA – and baseball’s winning elements seem in place.

“We only lost two games in a row once all year,” Mainieri said. “I think a lot of credit goes to our consistency.

“We’ve been up and down with hitting, but we’ve come from behind and won some big games,” he added. “We have confidence, and that’s what has helped us make our way here.” 

Texas has used it all – from ninth inning, walk-off heroics (back-to-back homeruns to top Arizona State last Friday) to 25th inning heroics (they topped Boston College in the Austin Regional 3-2 in 25 innings, the longest game in NCAA history).

“It's been a bumpier ride [than LSU], not as smooth or as consistent,” said Texas head coach Auggie Garrido. “I'm ready to get with any television producer and start a baseball survival show. We've certainly lived the script.” 

With that sort of run, it goes without saying that backup was called in.

“We've added a new assistant coach, David Copperfield,” quipped Garrido. 

“I've been asked if we are going to practice,” he continued. “How do you practice the way we've been winning?”

Since arriving to Omaha, Garrido has called on coach Copperfield more than he is comfortable with.

Last Sunday, Southern Miss loaded the bases and walked in the Longhorn winning run in the ninth. Five days later, Cameron Rupp and Connor Rowe launched solo home runs - also in the game’s final inning – that knocked out Arizona State.

Yet, regardless of how they each arrived to this spot, the preseason No. 1 team (LSU) will take on the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 seed (Texas).

No surprise to see the two teams the only ones left standing. As Ryan Schimpf pointed out, “You don’t get by on luck.”

The secret, according to Garrido - a five-time National Champion – is simply “great players and great coaching.”

It seems a straightforward formula – but one that few teams are ever able to mix up. Yet these two clubs, who have a combined 105-30 record on the year, seem to have found the recipe.

“I'd recognize the common denominator is that we each have talented players and experienced and well schooled coaching staffs that can relate to the players in a way to maintain their confidence and their skill,” Garrido said.

Those are words of wisdom earned with experience. Garrido, who won three titles at Cal State Fullerton before notching two at Texas, is the first coach to lead teams to National Championships in four different decades.

“I’m a fan of Auggie,” admitted Mainieri. “He’s a wonderful person, a great coach and epitomizes everything good about college athletics.”

Of course, that will only make the Tiger skipper’s first taste of a National Championship all the sweeter.

“I relish the opportunity to play Texas,” Mainieri said.

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