STARKVILLE, Miss. — LSU senior shortstop Kramer Robertson was beaming Friday night after his team clinched the Southeastern Conference Western Division title with a resounding 11-5 win at Mississippi State.
It wasn’t just the title that had him feeling so good. It’s not like Robertson and his teammates have been rolling around town with earmuffs on for the past couple of months. They’ve heard the chatter.
LSU can’t beat good teams. LSU can’t hit, can’t pitch, can’t do this, can’t do that. LSU is overrated.
The smile plastered on Robertson’s face almost said it all. His words just provided the context.
“There’s not many things that feel better than when you can prove people wrong,” Robertson said. “We went through a bit of a midseason struggle there. We took ownership of it. We didn’t point fingers. We didn’t make excuses — we owned it.
“We needed to be better; we have been. A lot of people wrote us off, said we were underachievers, whatever. I knew we had a great team with great players and great coaches, and we’re proving that now.”
Looks like LSU should have fired Paul Mainieri when it had the chance.
You want to know how the Tigers won 11 of their last 12 SEC games to roar through the finish line well ahead of the rest of the pack and claim a share of the league title with Saturday's 11-7 win?
LSU found the chip on its shoulder.
That may be cliché, but bear with me, because this is a pretty big deal.
Often times at programs like LSU, whose sustained success at the highest level is the envy of those around it, natural shoulder chips are hard to come by. Instead, they’re often artificially manufactured.
Look at Alabama football during its latest championship run, when some staffer pasted printouts around the team facility with made-up quotes from “The Media” about how the Tide was not a match for the Washington Huskies.
Complacency is the most dangerous poison at places like Alabama in college football and New England in professional football and, to a lesser degree, LSU baseball. Accepting the status quo is the first step toward losing whatever edge you’ve worked hard to obtain.
Maintaining that edge when you’re at or near the top is incredibly difficult. So you do everything you can to keep it, including fabricating reasons to trick the mind into thinking there is something to prove.
But when the chip is real, when there’s a real sense that there’s something to be proved to real doubters, and when the ability is there to match that drive?
1. Baseball is not a sprint ... until it matters
LSU has not been a juggernaut during this stretch, from a statistical standpoint. Its batting average in its past 14 games (.292) is almost identical to its batting average in the first 42 (.291). It has shaved its ERA by a little more than a run per game (4.02 to 3.00), but it’s not like LSU is blowing teams out of the water.
The difference, it seems, is that LSU is actively going out to prove itself as worthy, rather than trying not to fail to live up to its lofty expectations many held at the beginning of the season.
The finish this year was eerily similar to LSU's all-out dash to the finish line last season. LSU won 12 of 14 games to finish this season and 11 of 12 to finish last season. The difference is what was expected of LSU at the beginning of this season, senior second baseman Cole Freeman said.
"We weren't living up to the expectations," he said. "We lose a couple games and a bunch of people jump off the bandwagon and think the season's over. ... As long as the people in the clubhouse understand that we're all right, we can still take care of business. That's what we did this year. ...
"Our backs were against the wall, and we did it."
As Robertson said, LSU knew it was capable of greatness all along. It just came down to proving it. Maybe it owes a thank you to those who doubted it could.
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Drenched in the remnants of a celebratory ice-water shower, LSU coach Pa…