I'm not going to lie to y'all. This one hurt.
LSU lost only nine games in the regular season, and only one regular season series all year. Rarely was the team even challenged it seemed, as the pitching mastery of Aaron Nola virtually assured a Friday night win every single time.
Alex Bregman put up a season that was worthy of being compared to Todd Walker, which is something I never thought would happen. Bregman finished the year hitting 369/417/546, falling short of Walker's 1992 freshman campaign in which he hit 400/519/652. But given the changes in the bat, those batting lines aren't as far away as you think.
Chris Cotton, long one of my favorite Tigers for the way he worked his way from walk-on to midweek starter to dominant closer, became the student favorite he was meant to become. The #58PercentCotton hashtag and the Ka-Li-Ma chants from the outfield were organic, fan-driven tributes. This was our team.
Mason Katz lived up to his potential and after spending a year quietly being our best player, this year he was loudly our best player. He slammed 16 home runs on the year and generally abused pitchers around the SEC.
Everywhere you looked, players were contributing. Chris Sciambra bounced back from a broken neck, Christian Ibarra finally defeated our Third Base Vortex of Suck, Ty Ross threw out 19 of 55 would-be base stealers, and Raph Rhymes was Raph Rhymes.
The bullpen was great, and Cody Glenn came out of nowhere to seize the Sunday starter job. Ryan Eades completed a rotation in which every starter had an ERA under three. The bullpen was nearly as effective. This team was everything you could want. It played great defense, had an outstanding rotation, a deep pen, could hit for power and average, and could hurt you one through nine in the lineup.
This was perhaps the most well-balanced LSU team I have ever seen. They could beat you any which way until, well, until they couldn't. The deep dimensions of Omaha clearly frustrated the Tigers against UCLA and they lost a nail biter. Then they fell down early to UNC in an elimination game and never seemed to recover, pressing to find that magic that had been so prevalent all year long.
I could barely watch the rest of the Series. In fact, I didn't until the final series, during which I rooted for UCLA because I couldn't face a Mississippi State team that we beat winning the national title. UCLA is a worthy champ, and they have been on the cusp for the last few years, so it's nice they finally broke through and won that title. It's a good program that deserved this one. We can complain about the park all we want, but they still had to make it to Omaha, and they had the experience on how to play that park, earned through years of making it to the CWS.
But that should have been our dogpile. That should have been us. Right up until it wasn't. And now, we have the long eight month wait for redemption. This feeling seems familiar.