There's a lot of political and long-term structural issues in college sports that I really want to address this week, but let's talk actual sports first. Conference realignment, distribution of money, and football's postseason play are all important issues which rightfully take a lot of our attention. This stuff matters, and will shape the sports we watch for decades.
But none of that matters when there are actual sports to watch.
Backroom politics are interesting to write about and discuss, but it pales in the excitement and emotion of the games themselves. Sometimes you have to turn the blogs and news pages off and just watch the games. Because the games are pretty great.
LSU, if you didn't notice, just had one of its best sports weekends of the academic year. The baseball team won its weekend series, on the road against a top ten team, to win the outright regular season title (thanks to an epic collapse by Kentucky). The softball team then went out and beat Texas A&M in College Station to advance to the Supers. Both series capping games were incredibly tense and exciting affairs. It's why I watch sports.
I'm not going to get on my high horse and talk about how I hate conference realignment and how it detracts from the purity of the game or some such nonsense. Hell, I love that backroom stuff. It's a blast to follow. But it still pales in comparison to the thrill of a tightly contested ballgame that only has the whole season hanging in the balance. No pressure.
Even better, the sports talking heads didn't even notice. There will be no fake fights on ESPN or endless talk radio patter manufacturing some absurd controversy. The only people talking about the games today are those who love the sport with other people who love the sport. Amazing, isn't it?
Amazing is the only correct word to use in regards to LSU baseball this year. On paper, this is one of the weakest teams we have fielded in some time. There wasn't a whole lot of enthusiasm in the preseason, especially with the loss of the Tigers' best player to the Major Leagues. The preseason target was simply making the tournament, not winning the SEC.
This has not been a magical run. LSU lost one of its outfielders, Alex Edward, to injury before the first game of the season (Literally). Mainieiri's been reduced to trotting out a starting outfield of whoever is still walking, and it's not like this team was blessed with extreme depth. He's pretty much being throwing guys out there to see what sticks or because there's no one else on the bench.
How cursed has this team been? Check out the catcher position. Ty Ross couldn't play this weekend due to appendicitis (Really?) and then his backup Jordy Snikeris got hurt in the first game. That meant Tyler Moore had to play games two and three. Mainieiri got so desperate for bats on Saturday that he called on Snikeris to pinch hit and then called on Jackson Slaid to hit as well. Slaid, at the time, was busy warming up the pitchers as the bullpen catcher. When your series winning hit comes from the bullpen catcher, you know you are scraping the bottom of the barrel.
No excuses. Go grab a helmet and go get the game-winning hit. That's what this team does. They've done it all year. This isn't the most skilled team we've ever seen, but it is one of the guttiest. And for that, they are champions.
Though it doesn't hurt to have Kevin Gausman, destroyer of worlds.
Softball actually had higher preseason aspirations, if only because their complete lack of offensive firepower isn't as big of a deal. Softball is a lower scoring sport and winning 2-1 and 1-0 all of the time is actually a viable strategy.
Also, come postseason, you only go as far as your pitching. While that's a bit of a cliché in baseball, it's true in softball, especially for LSU. Any time we've made the WCWS, it's been largely a one-woman show on the mound (Britni Sneed would be an ATVS crush had ATVS existed then - consider her an ATVS Crush Emritus).
LSU has one of the best pitchers in the game in Rachele Fico, and Fico was certainly excellent in our first game against the Aggies, tossing a dominant two-hitter to send the Aggies to the loser's bracket. However, Sunday was the Brittany Mack Show.
No one outside of Mack's family is going to argue she is the better pitcher. Fico has an ERA below one (0.92), 204 strikeouts, and an opponent's batting average of 176. Those are incredible numbers, and no mere mortal can compete with that. However, Mack's no slouch (2.38 ERA), and she pitched like you expect a senior leader to pitch. She pitched like a woman who didn't want to play her last game.
Texas A&M hit 10 home runs this weekend while LSU only scored 5 runs. Every at bat, there was the danger an Aggie would go yard. But this offense which just bludgeoned the other two teams in the field could not get going against LSU pitchers. In two games, the vaunted Aggie offense managed just five hits and one run, and that run came in the final inning with the Aggies down two.
We don't cover women's sports on here that much largely because A) they are hard to follow and B) I don't want to sound like an idiot. That doesn't mean that I don't leap at the opportunity to watch the Lady Tigers when I can. Softball is a great postseason sport because every game is so damn tense. And as long as we've got Mack and Fico, we've got a real shot at advancing.
There weren't banner headlines on ESPN. Hell, The Advocate barely noticed. But if you love LSU sports, this was the weekend for you. This is why I watch - great, tense games with high stakes. Even better when the Tigers win.
Politics can be fun. The games are better.