OMAHA, Neb. — Alden Cartwright wrapped his arms completely around Zac Person, an embrace that lasted more than 10 seconds.
Shortstop Alex Bregman, leaning against the doorway to the locker room showers, hugged each player. Andrew Stevenson and Jake Godfrey exchanged handshakes and hugs.
Danny Zardon wrapped his arms around a departing equipment manager, and Alex Lange slapped hands with Conner Hale, pulling the infielder close to him.
The LSU locker room after the season-ending loss to TCU was one, big, somber goodbye party.
“It’s never easy when you don’t win the last game of the season, especially with all of the effort this team has put in,” Cartwright said. “We’re losing a big group of guys. It’s going to be tough.”
As expected, all four of LSU’s drafted juniors plan to forgo their senior seasons and sign professional contracts. Bregman, the No. 2 selection in the draft last week, posted a thank you letter on Twitter on Thursday night.
Longtime assistant Will Davis and director of baseball operations Nolan Cain both tweeted messages Thursday, saying goodbye to outgoing players: seniors Hale, Person, Kade Scivicque, Jared Foster, Chris Sciambra and juniors Bregman, Mark Laird, Andrew Stevenson and Chris Chinea.
Not only did LSU’s season get cut short after a 1-2 stay in the College World Series — the Tigers are losing nearly every position player that got them to Omaha, Nebraska.
“Three years grinding with my boys,” Chinea said. “All I’m thinking about it is the last few nights with them. Love these guys. Special bond. Special team. Came up short. We can think about pro ball later.”
The Tigers, who finished the season 54-12, will lose seven of eight everyday position players and designated hitter Sciambra. Only left fielder Jake Fraley, a rising junior, returns. Fraley will don Bregman’s No. 8 jersey next season, Bregman said in a tweet.
LSU also might lose a vital member of the coaching staff. Eight-year assistant Will Davis is seen as one of the favorites to get the head job at UNO, a position he’s interviewing for Monday.
A positive for the 2016 squad: LSU returns all but one pitcher, Person, and hopes to have more than just two consistent starting hurlers.
Moments after the loss, coach Paul Mainieri stood in a corner of the locker room and spoke to reporters for more than 10 minutes. He needed just 10 seconds to explain the short stay at the CWS.
“I think some of the limitations we had,” he said, “got exposed a little bit.”
The lack of a consistent No. 3 starting pitcher has the Tigers back home in Baton Rouge after one of the program’s best seasons.
For just the second time in school history and the first time in nearly 100 years, an LSU team didn’t lose consecutive games. The Tigers lost just 12 overall, the second-fewest losses in a season since Skip Bertman arrived in 1984.
They won the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship, claimed nine of 10 SEC series and rolled through NCAA regionals and super regionals at 5-0.
A late-season hitting skid from some of the team’s best hitters — Hale, Chinea and Foster were a combined 7 for their last 71 at-bats — is partly to blame. But the real issue, Mainieri and others suggested, was not having a go-to No. 3 guy.
LSU starters not named Lange and Jared Poché had 78 strikeouts to 56 walks and allowed 10 hits per nine innings. Lange and Poché had a 203-to-71 strikeout-to-walk ratio. They allowed eight hits per nine innings.
LSU had 31 games without Lange or Poché starting this year. Fifteen of them ended in no decisions for the starter. Six of the Tigers’ 12 losses this season came with someone other than Poché or Lange on the mound.
LSU pieced together Thursday’s game with Poché and Lange unavailable. Eight LSU pitchers allowed 10 hits and eight runs.
“The teams that had a little bit better pitching than us are the ones moving on,” Mainieri said. “It was a remarkable year. I’m proud of our team, proud of the season we had. It was a great year — not great enough.”
In summing up the season, the coach said LSU’s veteran lineup performed at a high level and ace Lange, a rookie, emerged as one of the nation’s best, while Poché offered a “really solid season.”
A No. 3? It wasn’t there.
“We lost out on a couple of pitchers that I thought were going to help us a lot. Might have made us a little bit better,” the coach said, referring to freshman Jake Latz and signee Mac Marshall.
Latz never pitched after suffering a stress reaction in his elbow during preseason practice, and Marshall left the team in September for junior college.
“They could have helped us,” Poché said Thursday.
Mainieri’s focus in the wake of the season-ending loss already was on finding a third guy for the 2016 season. There are plenty of options. Hard-throwing Texas pitcher Cole McKay, a 2015 signee, will join the team this summer. He was rated a top-100 draft prospect.
Doug Norman, Jake Godfrey and Austin Bain — all freshmen who had shots at the No. 3 starting gig — will be a year older.
“I think winning 54 games this year knowing we didn’t really establish a third starter … the guys that did start as the third starter were just freshmen and need to make improvements — Norman, Godfrey, Bain — but you can see the promise,” Mainieri said. “This summer will be huge for all of them. They get a chance to pitch and get better at their weaknesses.”
Confidence is high in the 2016 squad — even from those who won’t be on it.
“I tell them to keep working hard, and the road to Omaha starts today,” Bregman said. “They’re going to be good next year, too. I can’t wait to watch them come back here next year and play for a championship.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.