FORT WORTH, Texas — The LSU gymnastics team’s pursuit of a national championship will have to wait at least another year.
After finishing third at nationals a year ago, which boosted the Tigers’ expectations going into this season, the chase ended rather abruptly Friday.
The beam got LSU again, just as it did 10 years earlier in the semifinals at the NCAA championships.
This time, two falls and a couple of costly wobbles on their first four routines cost the fourth-ranked Tigers a spot in Saturday night’s Super Six finals.
LSU was right in the mix to finish in the top three after two rotations before disaster struck once, twice, three times on beam — where the Tigers were ranked fourth in the nation — sealing their fate.
Just like that, a bid for a school-record third straight Super Six appearance and a shot at the national title slipped away in exasperating fashion in a Fort Worth Convention Center that had been rocking from a large group of fans clad in purple and gold minutes earlier.
LSU went on to finish fifth in the six-team field with a 196.550, its lowest score this season. Oklahoma won with a 197.400, while Alabama (197.100) and Auburn (197.075) claimed the other two Super Six berths.
It wasn’t the first time LSU coach D-D Breaux had been disappointed at this meet, many in head-scratching fashion, but the 38-year coaching veteran said Friday night went to the top of her list.
“In all the years of everything that’s happened, it’s going to go down as the absolute biggest disappointment of my career,” Breaux said, the expression on her face giving that statement away early. “The kids don’t try to mess up, but holy cow … that was a (disaster).”
After scoring a 98.800 on the first two rotations, just behind Oklahoma’s 99.025 and Alabama’s 98.875, LSU was in pretty good shape.
The Tigers opened with a 49.375 on vault as freshman Myia Hambrick produced a career-high 9.950, which tied her for first in the session, and followed with a 49.425 on bars as Rheagan Courville threw up a 9.925.
At that point, Breaux chose to have Lloimincia Hall lead off on the beam instead of Sydney Ewing, who earned All-America honors last year as a freshman.
Hall had a couple of wobbles, but stayed on the beam and scored a 9.30.
“I had Scarlett Williams sitting on the bench and I could have put her in after Lloimincia had a bad warm-up,” Breaux said. “But I left her in, and it was a bad choice. It all rolled downhill after that.”
Freshman Erin Macadaeg was up next, and she fell while executing a back flip and scored a 9.250. That meant Hall’s 9.30 would count toward the team score.
Ewing tried her best to keep it together with a 9.850, but Ashleigh Gnat followed with another fall and received a 9.375 from the judges.
“It was kind of the same thing,” Breaux said. “Someone got distracted, someone missed and it all fell apart.
“The kids tried to grasp it,” she added. “But by the time we got to Ashleigh, who had a beautiful routine, she was so mentally shaken she couldn’t put it back together.”
Courville and Jessie Jordan responded with scores of 9.875 and 9.90, but the damage had already been done. LSU scored a 48.275 — seven-tenths of a point below its lowest score of the season — and plummeted all the way to fifth place with one event remaining.
“The vault and bars were beautiful,” Breaux said. “All you had to do at this meet was score a 49.200 in each event. All we had to do was stay on the beam, and they lost their nerve.”
The Tigers closed it out with a 49.475 on floor exercise, led by Gnat’s 9.925.
Three of Gnat’s teammates — Jordan, Ewing and Courville — cranked out 9.90s, but Hall scored only a 9.80 after having a one-tenth deduction for stepping out of bounds.
“I wasn’t too worried about what happened before me on beam,” said Jordan, who, along with five other teammates qualified for individual finals Sunday. “It really doesn’t affect me because I know how strong our lineup is, and I figured we would fight back.”
But it proved to be too big a hole to dig out of again.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.