It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Charles Dickens may not have been an LSU fan, but his words fit this past weekend for LSU sports. Saturday was a special, even magical day, and we all crashed back to earth on Sunday. Dreams are wonderful and beautiful things. Unfortunately, dreams end.
It was still a beautiful dream while it lasted.
LSU softball and baseball, through forces outside of their control (weather and extra innings), ended up playing crucial postseason games at the same time, late into Saturday night and the wee hours of Sunday morning.
Our fearless leader stuck primarily with Alex Lange and the baseball team trying to win a pitching duel against UNCW in the home regional. I decided to settle in and focus on LSU softball trying to eliminate our hated rival, Alabama, from the WCWS.
Over the course of multiple channel flips, LSU fans were treated to two excellent, important postseason games. Games that seemed to take on an extra layer of unreality due to the late hour. Softball jumped out to an early lead against Alabama, keyed by the kind of defensive miscues that almost made me feel bad for the Crimson Tide. I quickly got over that feeling. Softball went up 5-1 by the 3rd inning, and then it was just a matter of white knuckling it, gripping as hard as they could to the lead.
Meanwhile, baseball could have badly used one of those runs. Baseball rarely threatened, and when they did get a runner to second base, it was almost always with two outs. Lange kept shutting UNCW down, but he was leaving the door open and worked his way out of some jams. This couldn't continue like this all night.
Finally, in the 7th inning, Philip Evans cracked. He had been pitching a spectacular game for the Seahawks so far, matching Lange pitch for pitch, and it is not like he completely fell apart or anything. We're used to the dam breaking and LSU's offense scoring bunches of runs, rushing like running water over the broken rocks. Instead, LSU scraped out just one run.
In the prior inning, Lange let up a loud out and a double off the wall. It was just as likely that LSU would be down 1-0 than up by that score given how the two pitchers performed. Lange's pitch count was beginning to climb and Tiger fans started looked nervously towards the bullpen, knowing that there was no savior there.
That's when Lange built his name.
Lange didn't struggle through the last three innings, he got better. UNCW hitters helped him out by weakly chasing early pitches in the counts, but Lange took the meager crumb his offense gave him in support and made it hold up. He almost made a one-run lead insurmountable.
The softball team, of course, had to make things interesting. Alabama loaded the bases in the 7th and Torina had to call Hoover from the bullpen. Two runs crossed the plate, and the winning run was at the plate with two outs before Hoover finally coaxed the game winning ground ball. LSU held on and advanced to the semis, made sweeter by the fact it came at the expense of Alabama.
Right as softball was capping off Alabama, Lange returned to the mound for the ninth inning. Sitting at 100 pitches, there was concerns about his ability to finish but at this point, a tired Lange is better than any option in the pen. Besides, this is when legends are made.
I previously criticized Mainieri for leaving Lange too long in games, particularly early in the year. Simply put, the game in April does not mean the same as a game in May and June. However, this is when you leave your ace in for an extra innings. This moment. Lange was getting stronger, the crowd was getting louder, and the ghosts were alive in the Box.
Then Lange allowed a lead off single. Fans eyed nervously towards the pen, but no one was warming up. This was Lange's game to win or to lose. That's when he reached back and found his best stuff of the night. Lange befuddled three straight hitters, striking out the side, and sending the Tigers to a rowdy 2-0 win. Yes, befuddled is the right word. Those hitters didn't stand a chance. He looked like a Major Leaguer throwing to high school kids. For one inning, Lange became Sandy Koufax. He's always been great, but this was otherworldly.
The games didn't end until after one in the morning, but it was completely worth it to stay and watch games that magical. Well, until the next morning when the Lil Poseur woke me up at 6 in the morning because that's what little kids do.
I gamely pushed through the day, but the magic went away when the sun came up. LSU took another early lead, this time against Michigan, but could not hold on. A comedy of errors, by LSU's defense this time, gave Michigan a late lead and a 6-3 win.
Baseball didn't even get off the ground. The rains came, delaying the loser's game un til late. LSU could have gotten the rematch in a little after 10 PM, setting up another night of Tigers After Dark, but the NCAA nixed the idea. By rules, games can start no later than 11 PM, but apparently that means Eastern time.
Joe Alleva threw some red meat to the fan base by raging against the decision to postpone the game, and cancelling an encore performance of late night baseball. It seems that's what he does best this days: rage impotently at a negative decision against LSU that he couldn't prevent. I appreciate the emotion, but I'd like a bit more effectiveness.
Now, we have the potential final game during the day today. Poche' will get the start, meaning he will be unavailable to start Game One of the Supers. UNCW will get a chance to reset their bullpen and get a night's rest after yesterday's long day. It's not a crippling decision by the NCAA, but it most definitely cost LSU a tactical advantage.
The dream is over, and now reality sets in. The reality is that the softball team had a great year, and losing in the semifinals is a tremendous success. The team loses only one senior, and this is the building block for next year. As for baseball, the reality is the same. This is the best team in the country, and it shouldn't need any help from NCAA schedule makers to make it Omaha. No excuses, get it done.