The Tiger is the king of the jungle, but for one night, one season, the animal champion of the LSU baseball team was a possum.
On May 7th, 2016 in the second game of the series against Arkansas, the Tigers were down 9-1 after four and a half innings of play. In the seventh inning things were looking a little more promising with the Tigers only trailing 9-4 but still a challenge to make up five runs with nine outs. But as the old saying goes...well I’ll probably botch this so, take a listen to these poignant comments.
I dare you to find a more powerful, more impactful statement.
A Razorback might be intimidating but the possum sent the pigs a runnin.
The possum’s impact would be felt immediately. Jake Fraley would ground out to the shortstop but an errant throw would allow Cole Freeman to score from second, cutting the lead to 9-5 after seven.
In the ninth inning, the possum would truly establish itself as a force to be reckoned with. Antoine Duplantis and Fraley would reach back-to-back after errors by the Arkansas third baseman on consecutive plays. With one out and the bases loaded thanks to a Kramer Robertson single, Chris Reid would single in Duplantis to make it a three-run game. Next up, Brendan Breaux would double in Duplantis and Robertson setting the score at 9-8. A Greg Deichmann sac fly would score Reid and force extras.
An inning later, Fraley would double to center and one batter later, Kramer Robertson would single in Fraley, giving the Tigers a 10-9 win.
Although the actual possum never made a return, the possum became the rallying symbol for the rest of the year with stuffed possums and possum drawing seen in the LSU dugout and in the stands.
Having won the series opener, combined with wins on Saturday and Sunday, the sweep of Arkansas kicked off what would be a ten-game regular season win streak, with sweeps over Notre Dame and Tennessee, and a series win over then No.1 Florida. LSU’s pitching was particularly effective, allowing more than four runs just twice during the ten game stretch. Offensively the stretch saw some clutch hitting from the Tigers. Fraley provided the deciding home run in a 1-0 victory at Notre Dame, Robertson with an 8th inning go-ahead single in a 2-1 victory at Tennessee along with the game winning RBI single in the 8th inning of the 5-4 over Florida.
Clutch would stay with the Tigers, Robertson in particular, during the SEC Tournament. In the opener, the Tiger erased a 4-0 deficit in the sixth with three runs in the bottom of the seventh and in the bottom of the ninth, Robertson would single in Breaux, for a 5-4 walk-off Tiger win against the Vols. In the very next game, back-to-back singles from Jordan Romero and Freeman in the top of the 14th gave the Tigers a 5-3 over the Gators. The 13-2 stretch from the possum game to the end of the SEC tournament, was enough to vault the Tigers up the polls earning them a national seed.
The game and subsequent run were highlight moments for the 2016 team which, just a few months earlier, didn’t know how many highlights it would produce. The team was anchored by hurlers Alex Lange and Jared Poche, but the offense returned one player from the 2015 team that made it to Omaha and included Andrew Stevenson and Alex Bregman.
In spite of this, things actually looked promising early in the season and the Tigers went 16-3 heading into SEC play. That’s when reality set in. The Tigers dropped their first two series of conference play, won their next three series, and then had lost the next two. If the Tigers were going to make a big push, it had to start against Arkansas.
The late season momentum carried into the Regional, where LSU would defeat Utah Valley and Rice. Unfortunately, the season would come to an end in Super’s with the Tigers losing to eventual CWS champion Coastal Carolina.
Ultimately #rallypossum made a non-championship, non-Omaha season one of the more memorable ones. Looking back, 2016 would prove to be huge for the 2017 team that would make it back to Omaha. 2016 saw the breakout of Robertson, gave then freshman Duplantis a taste of big time college baseball, and Deichmann regular playing time. All three would be huge for the following season.
Of all the programs this decade, perhaps the widest range of opinion circles around the baseball team. A lot of the 2010’s will be dedicated to what the baseball team didn’t do, namely win a championship, having won at least two each of the previous two decades, a constant source of fuel for the fire Mainieri crowd. Potentially lost in the championship or bust mentality is the continued high level of play the program has sustained. Year in and year out the Tigers are in the regionals and super regionals, all while producing All-Americans and future MLB stars. Destination is important, but so is the journey and all the excitement along the way. Perhaps no team this decade embodied that more than the 2016 team. It didn’t have a storybook ending, but thanks to a possum was pretty exciting along the way.