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While this was LSU Baseball’s seventh title, it was the first I could truly appreciate

2023 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images

Hi, if you’re reading this you’re probably older than me. The very first thing I wrote for this site was an introductory column where I shared the fun fact that I was born two days after LSU upset Steve Spurrier’s top-ranked Gators in Tiger Stadium and I think I induced a mid-life crisis for half this blog’s readership.

So if you do the math, I was not yet born for four of LSU’s seven baseball championships. I was two and change years old when they won in 2000, so even though I was probably in the room while my dad watched the game, I obviously don’t remember it. The 2009 title I remember, but I did not appreciate. I was sort of a “I only watch Saints and LSU football” sports fan back then. Even if I wanted to watch that team the games were rarely on TV. I was too busy beating Super Mario Galaxy that summer to care about baseball anyway.

2011 was when I started trying to branch my sports fandom out beyond football. I excitedly followed the New Orleans Hornets making the playoffs, but was surprised when the LSU baseball team didn’t make the NCAA Tournament at all. They just won the title two years ago, I thought we were always championship contenders! Is it because I started following? Did I ruin it?

The team returned to dominance in 2012. The season was a lot of fun as the Tigers were SEC regular season champions and seemed like a lock for a return to Omaha... until they lost to Stony Brook, one of the most infamous chokes in the sport’s history.

But in 2013 they were an unstoppable steamroller. Most of the lineup returned and the team added star freshmen Alex Bregman and Mark Laird while Aaron Nola cemented his place as one of the best pitchers in school history. This time they would certainly return to glory... until they went 0-2 in Omaha, only scoring three runs.

For the next four years, LSU would trot out superstars who would go on to compete for and win championships in the pros, but they always came up just short in purple and gold. So many great players like Bregman, Nola, Raph Rhymes, Mason Katz, Alex Lange, Jared Poché, Antoine Duplantis and more came to LSU and played at a championship level, but it was never enough.

I always heard LSU baseball be talked about in the same vain as the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers and Pittsburgh Steelers. The sport revolves around them. The drama is whether any of the other teams competing would win the title, or if it would just be the same team again. But ever since I hopped on board it felt like any outcome except winning it all was a certainty.

It seems so silly and I know I sound like a spoiled brat to fans of schools that have never won a baseball title, but after the 2017 team’s devastating finish, it felt almost hopeless. The program regressed even further after that and only hosted one super regional over the next four years. I watched the games, but didn’t really believe they were championship caliber teams, even if some of the players were.

But that changed when the 2023 preseason rolled around. Just like in 2012, ‘13, ‘14, ‘15 and ‘17, I got my hopes up and believed this team could do it, but I knew it would be the last time. If this team couldn’t win the College World Series, what LSU team could?

In January my family made plans to go on an Alaskan cruise and I said I couldn’t go. Was that because I was afraid of getting seasick or because I would be gone during the days the championship series was scheduled to be played? Who’s to say really? But I got the sense just from the preseason chatter this LSU team was very different from the previous years. They weren’t expected to be in Omaha because they wear purple and gold. They were expected to be in Omaha because it was the best roster in the country.

All those players I named earlier were all-time greats. They were deserving of championships even if fate didn’t have one in the cards. But as good as they were, none of them were Dylan Crews or Paul Skenes.

The best pitcher and position player I (and many older than me) have ever seen at LSU were both on the field together... for one season.

One year. It had to count. It had to be this year.

Going into every season believing any result outside of a championship is a recipe for misery, and I try to avoid it. Making it out the Eugene Regional in 2021 was an absolute joy, even if the subsequent Super Regional was painful. In 2022 I would have been happy just making it to Omaha, but they came up well short despite a lethal lineup. It had to be 2023. It absolutely had to be. If not 2023, then when???

February and March were fun. It was easy to believe. April was stressful, but you had to feel good at the end. I told people I would feel uneasy if the team stormed through conference play and claimed an undisputed No. 1 seed. That went poorly for Arkansas and Tennessee the last two years. This team needed to be tested. They were being tested and coming out on top.

Then May arrived.

They lost two out of three at Auburn, and I was relieved. one bad weekend made the flaws obvious and took some pressure off. Every goal the team set was still attainable.

Then they played Mississippi State.

Game 3 of that series felt like those heartbreaking postseason losses I mentioned earlier. It felt like the season was over. I was a special level of mad after that game where I had to go take a shower and contemplate if sports are worth sacrificing my sanity. I do this after maybe one Saints game and three Pelicans games per year, but I did not expect this runaway preseason No. 1 team to cause me to sink to this point.

There were more games to be played, but we knew how it would end: with a team that isn’t LSU dogpiling in middle America. There’s no way a team with a bullpen this disastrous and a lineup this sporadic could win a championship. I decided I would enjoy the last times I would see Paul Skenes, Dylan Crews and Tre Morgan in LSU uniforms. At least this time I know the heartbreak is coming,

Then June arrived.

They defied our expectations throughout the entire tournament. Sometime shortly after the lightning delay in that first game against Oregon State, a switch was flipped. They became the team we imagined they could be. They became something I felt like LSU baseball never was since 2009: greater than the some of their parts. I’m not blaming any coaches or players by saying that, it’s just the random nature of baseball. But somehow this team defied those odds and did every single thing they needed to for 13 games.

I was happy when we beat Kentucky to win the Super Regional. We were owed Omaha after six years, the longest drought since LSU’s first appearance under Skip. I celebrated it for a day, but just getting there would’ve still been a disappointment.

I seriously doubted after that loss to Wake Forest. I could already envision Tre Morgan getting tagged out at the plate being one of the sports images that will haunt me forever alongside a Rams DB blasting into Tommylee Lewis or Jake Slaughter sticking his leg out sliding into second base. But once again they shut me up. Nate Ackenhausen, Griffin Herring and Riley Cooper pitched like champions. LSU needed every single one of those pitches.

I felt good going into the last game against Wake Forest. Then nine innings came and went. I thought it would kill me.

After Tre’s phenomenal play in the top of the 8th inning, I believed he would be the hero again in the bottom, but he flied out. I could see it already. Another all-time great play and all-time great performance by Skenes would be wasted on another what-could-have-been. Then Tommy Tank’d and I was elated.

All week I said I’d rather lose to Wake, a program I respect than lose in the Finals to Florida again, but I forgot that shit as soon as that ball left Tommy’s bat. In a span of seconds I went from “Oh God it’s Florida” to “Who else could it have been but Florida?”

I dreaded the final at bats for the guys who are leaving. Dreaded the possibility that failing to get a timely hit would be their legacy, or that they would be forgotten because the game was out of hand. Well, the out of hand part was true, but the ending was more Cinderella than I thought possible.

It seemed so nice that the 2009 team cruised in the championship game. I figured that wasn’t possible in this massive goddamn park. In 19 games at TD Ameritrade/Charles Schwab Stadium, LSU had never scored more than 7 runs, and that was just one game. In the final game for the team that had to win it this year, they scored 18. Every starter got a hit AND scored at least one run. All but one got an RBI. Gavin Dugas got hit by a pitch. Everybody got their moment... well except Skenes but the rest was too perfect to be upset about that.

I though a lot about the 2014, ‘16 and ‘18 LSU baseball teams. Those teams made it to the postseason and one of them even made it out a regional, but they were a slight cut below the Omaha teams that preceded them. They still had some leftover players from those teams, and even when they would succeed you would think “These guys are good but man remember how good those guys were last year?”

I know 2024 will be one of those years. Yeah we will still enjoy plenty more Tommy Tanks and Thatcher Hurd breaking balls, but it will still feel surreal to think “remember when we had Dylan Crews batting here for three years? Remember when Paul Skenes pitched all year without one bad start? Remember Tre Morgan being a black hole at first base?” I will still miss them, but it won’t be nearly as bittersweet. The 2023 team will live forever.

The championship game was the perfect sendoff that I had dreamed previous teams would get. And it came against the FLORIDA GATORS! You couldn’t have scripted a better finish. I guess I would’ve scripted only allowing 12 runs in the game 2 loss, but nobody will really remember what happened in that game. They will only remember the last game.

LSU won the last game of the 2011 season. I was sad it was the last game. The team didn’t even qualify for the SEC Tournament, and was left out of the big dance altogether.

Every LSU team I followed since then lost the last game. Several in Baton Rouge, others in Omaha, then in Corvallis, Knoxville and Hattiesburg. The last game, they always lost. This time they finally won. I finally got to see the team finish the job. I didn’t have to imagine what a purple and gold dogpile would look like in HD.

For so many years I was told LSU Baseball is a championship caliber program, yet I never saw them win one. And even though they assembled the most dominant roster a lot of baseball pundits can remember, it still feels like a miracle. So many great teams came up short at the end, but this team did the opposite. Everything that could have gone right did. And as Chris Blair said, all is right in the world.