The reminder has been there staring at Kramer Robertson’s face every time he's opened his phone for almost an entire year.
Each quick glance to check the time, each composition of a text message or tweet, each swipe to access the phone’s camera since June 13 of last year, the same moment in time has been there to greet him.
The background image on Robertson’s phone is a picture of him in the foreground, on his knees, face to the ground with his hands clasped over his head. In the background, Coastal Carolina is celebrating a trip to Omaha with a dog pile on the mound.
This time of year is why Robertson came back instead of giving professional baseball a try. Ditto for the other members of what coach Paul Mainieri deemed “The Fab Four” before the year; Jared Poché, Antoine Duplantis and Cole Freeman.
Robertson and the rest of the Tigers get their first crack at facing the ghost of 2016 Friday, and they’ve been waiting some time for this opportunity.
“After last year, when we lost in that final game against Coastal Carolina, I’ve been obsessed with getting back to this point,” Robertson said. “It’s almost like there have been times where I wished that we could hit fast-forward to now.
“Now that we are there, it’s kind of like, ‘Take a deep breath, you have another chance at it, you’ve been through this before, you know what to expect.’ I don’t want to waste another opportunity. This is my last opportunity and I want to take advantage of it.”
His LSU team enters the tournament with the second-longest winning streak in the country at 11 games, trailing only No. 1 overall seed Oregon State.
Alex Box Stadium, unsurprisingly, has been kind to LSU this season. The Tigers went 27-7 at home this year, including a 21-4 mark in weekend series where they used their top arms.
For the sixth consecutive year and eighth out of the past 10, LSU’s path to Omaha runs through Baton Rouge, which is obviously the preferable route.
But that recent history has also provided LSU with ammunition in terms of heartache — evidenced by the photo that has stayed on Robertson’s phone.
Trying to spoil the party this season are Southeastern Louisiana, Rice and Texas Southern, all of which reached Baton Rouge on different terms and bring something different to the table.
Both Southeastern and Rice were here for last season’s regional tournament, although they occupy reverse roles this time around.
Rice was the No. 2 seed as an at-large team last year, but had to go on a magnificent run to even make the tournament this year, winning 18 of their past 22 — including the conference tournament — to earn the No. 3 seed.
“The confidence level of the whole team has risen,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said. “They went on survival mode.”
Southeastern, meanwhile, secured the No. 2 seed as an at-large team out of the Southland Conference.
It’s the first time in the program’s history it secured a No. 2 seed, and the fact that it did so without winning the Southland regular season or tournament titles speaks to its reputation and its ability to hang with the big boys — Southeastern posted an 8-6 record against RPI top-50 teams.
Even so, there’s no pressure felt by Southeastern.
“This is something you dream of,” sophomore pitcher Corey Gaconi said. “I think it’s more about opportunity than about pressure. … We can show people what we’re made of.”
Texas Southern also recovered from a bad start, posting a respectable conference record then reeling off four straight wins in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament to claim a spot in the tournament.
Its reward? Play its first NCAA tournament game since 2015 against a red-hot — and motivated — LSU club.
“I don’t know how you stop LSU right now,” Texas Southern coach Michael Robertson said. “They are the hottest team in the country. If you can figure that one out, you tell me.”