Inside their locker room on Sunday night, LSU's players gathered around coach Paul Mainieri.
The Tigers had lost to Florida State, swept out of the super regional and falling short of the College World Series. Many of them collapsed onto the ground when the Seminoles scored the winning run in the 12th inning. They sniffled as Mainieri spoke.
“When you put so much into something, that’s what makes it hurt so much,” Mainieri said. “If you don’t care, then it doesn’t affect you. I think the world’s a better place when you really care about something, when you want to put yourself into it so much that it brings you to tears.
"I think that’s a wonderful thing. Right now it doesn’t feel like a wonderful thing. It’s a wonderful thing that you care so much that it brings the emotion out of you.”
The season had ended in misery, two wins short of LSU's goal to reach the College World Series.
Four months ago, LSU was ranked No. 1 in the country, and the Tigers spoke of their expectations to compete for a national title after a disappointing 2018 season.
But injuries riddled the pitching staff. Freshman Jaden Hill, who made the opening weekend rotation, strained his ulnar collateral ligament. He didn't pitch again after his second start. Sophomore Nick Storz never got healthy. Senior Caleb Gilbert never rediscovered his mechanics. AJ Labas and Easton McMurray, the team's only left-hander, underwent preseason surgeries.
Only one member of LSU's initial weekend rotation, Landon Marceaux, ended the year as a starter. Zack Hess returned to the bullpen. Cole Henry emerged as an ace, then felt discomfort in his elbow. Eric Walker, in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, struggled with consistency.
The injuries forced LSU to shuffle its staff, and in 33 games since April 9, the Tigers’ starting pitcher lasted six or more innings just four times.
LSU dropped in the rankings. It fell out of the discussion for a national seed. The Tigers struck out 485 times this year, the most since 2009 — when LSU played seven more games. With two weeks left in the regular season, the Tigers lost five straight.
"We battled through a lot of things this whole year," senior right fielder Antoine Duplantis said. "I'm so proud of this team and the way we fought."
Antoine Duplantis heaved a throw into the infield.
The Tigers broke their losing streak, finishing fifth in the Southeastern Conference Western Division. They won three games at the SEC tournament and hosted an NCAA regional as the No. 13 overall seed.
Despite injuries and inconsistencies and an underwhelming regular season, LSU played the NCAA super regional at home. But Florida State, which had taken out national No. 4 seed Georgia, swept the Tigers inside Alex Box Stadium.
The Tigers' season ended in the super regionals for the third time under Mainieri. It was the second time in his tenure (also 2010-2012) the Tigers did not go to the College World Series in back-to-back seasons. LSU finished 40-26.
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While Florida State celebrated, LSU dragged itself off the field. Mainieri hugged Devin Fontenot, the losing pitcher, and ushered him toward the locker room. Hess cried in the dugout. So did Duplantis. Mainieri hugged both of them.
"The toughest thing about this business really, it's not just the losing and seeing a season come to an end," Mainieri said. "It's having to say good-bye to people that are such a big part of your life.
"There's a lot of guys going to be moving on. When they leave, you feel like a piece of you left with them."
A season that began with expectations of Omaha and a seventh national championship ended Sunday evening in heartbreak at Alex Box Stadium.
Next year, the Tigers' roster will look much different. Duplantis and starting infielders Chris Reid and Brandt Broussard used the last of their eligibility. Four juniors — shortstop Josh Smith, center fielder Zach Watson, Hess and pitcher Todd Peterson — were selected in the MLB draft. They are likely to sign professional contracts, though they have not announced their decisions.
The Tigers might have as many as six new starters. First baseman Cade Beloso figures to remain in the lineup after hitting 10 home runs his freshman year. Daniel Cabrera will return to the outfield. Saul Garza, who finished the season batting .303, could come back as the catcher, though he was drafted in the 32nd round.
LSU will have to pick two new starting outfielders, three infielders and a designated hitter. Giovanni DiGiacomo likely will take one outfield spot. Maurice Hampton could take the other, but he won't join the team until after football season.
In the infield, Hal Hughes, Drew Bianco, Gavin Dugas and signee Cade Doughty will push to fill three open spots. The Tigers lost signees Christian Cairo and Rece Hinds to the draft.
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end for the LSU baseball team.
The pitching staff looks like a strength of next year's team — if it can stay healthy. Some combination of Henry, Marceaux, Hill and Walker could fill the rotation. Fontenot, Matthew Beck, Trent Vietmeier and Ma'Khail Hilliard are options in the bullpen. Storz, Labas and McMurray could all return, too.
The Tigers seem to have a surplus of talented arms. Then again, LSU thought it had that this year before injuries swept through the staff.
LSU also will have to get its roster down to 35 players.
All of those decisions will happen in the coming weeks and months as this season, one that fell short of LSU's expectations and ended in heartbreak, fades into the past.
On Sunday night, after Mainieri finished speaking, the players huddled one more time. They had played their final game together. Smith stood in the center. They raised their arms in the air.
"It's not about losing or winning, dude," Smith said, choking back tears. "This is about forever for us, right? LSU on two. One. Two."
And the players spoke in unison.