They didn’t celebrate with a dogpile like teams for whom a trip to the College World Series is like the national championship itself.
Instead, the Tigers held a convention in center field and jumped for joy, their usual choreography. Or was it relief this time for having survived such a heavyweight bout of a super regional against Louisiana-Lafayette?
“We might be saving that one,” shortstop Alex Bregman said of the familiar dogpile routine.
Either way, the scene that played out on the floor of Alex Box Stadium was such a familiar one: LSU, in the ninth, closing out opposition, then pointing its purple and gold RV toward Omaha for the 17th time.
It ended this way: Blake Trahan, the Cajuns’ short stop and valiant leader, popped out to first baseman Chris Chinea to close LSU’s 6-3 victory, followed by the now-scripted victory lap around The Box with Mardi Gras beads and high fives.
But there was something different about this clincher, extra special for some special circumstances.
With soon-to-be retiring LSU radio announcer Jim Hawthorne signing off from the ballpark for the final time and the Tigers’ biggest in-state rival staring out glumly from their dugout, even Paul Mainieri got swept up by the madding crowd. He allowed himself to be photographed holding up a sign that read, “Going to Eauxmaha! For #7,” smiling like he’d never done this before.
Some may criticize his team, poke holes in it when it comes to the way it has swung the bats in the postseason and for its roulette-wheel relief pitching.
But as Mainieri said, “This team deserves to go to Omaha. That’s where we belong.”
The offense, or lack thereof, drew the most attention.
For most of the weekend, the Tigers looked like the gang that couldn’t hit straight. In their two games with the Cajuns, LSU was out hit 17-12, looking like Dracula had drained the blood from their bats.
Some of LSU’s offensive problems can be explained away by good pitching and good defense. Only the best teams, the hottest teams, are still playing, so it stands to reason the runs will be more dearly bought than in the regular season.
The Cajuns were playing defense like nine vacuum cleaners switched on in unison. Center fielder Kyle Clement robbed Jake Fraley and Alex Bregman — LSU’s poster boy for offensive troubles — on back-to-back diving grabs in the fourth.
But the Tigers have been more than unlucky. They’ve looked defensive at the plate, not attacking with their previous bravado.
Conversely, it was the starting pitching that kept LSU afloat. Alex Lange wasn’t as dominant Saturday as he was in a regional shutout against UNC-Wilimington. But he struck out 10 over eight-plus innings of three-run ball, plenty good enough to give the Tigers a chance to win that they cashed in for a 4-3 victory on Chris Sciambra’s game-winning home run.
Jared Poché pitched with guts and heart in his second straight quality start after some late-season shakiness. While Cajuns starter Gunner Leger was cutting through the LSU order, Poché was dancing with danger inning after inning, allowing a KC hall full of lead off men to reach base before wriggling out of Houdini’s chains time and again. By the time he left to thunderous applause after 7.2 innings, he had allowed just one run.
Finally, in the sixth inning of a scoreless standoff, a defensive dandy seemed to give the Tigers some mojo.
The Cajuns’ Joe Robbins reached on a slow roller to short that was called a tough error on Bregman, then after a sacrifice bunt Poché hit Stefan Trosclair.
UL-Lafayette appeared to pull a double steal, but Tyler Girouard fouled a pitch at the plate. With the runners sent back to first and second, Girouard lined out to Jared Foster, who flipped to the covering Bregman at second base to force out Robbins.
The Tigers charged off the field, some fire finally in their eyes. Bregman popped out to short to lead off the seventh, banging his bat into the ground in frustration. But Kade Scivicque followed.
They don’t call Scivicque the Maurepas Masher for nothing. He knocked a 1-0 offering from Leger out of round, a home run that would have sailed halfway to the site of the old Pancho’s up Nicholson Drive if it hadn’t hit the scoreboard.
For all their pressure, their craftiness, their determination, the Cajuns were never able to wrest the lead from the Tigers’ hands. For that, they paid with the end of their season.
It all came unraveled for the Cajuns in the LSU eighth. Bregman finally collected his first NCAA hit, a two-out, two-RBI single up the middle that scored pinch-runner Sciambra and Mark Laird. The Tigers tacked on two more runs on a Conner Hale triple down the right-field line for a 5-0 lead, pumping his fists skyward in delight as he just beat the throw to third.
And now they move on, college baseball’s winningest team the past four years, returning to the site of so many triumphs over the past 25 years.
They aren’t the hottest team still alive. They just win. And maybe there’s nothing more impressive than that.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.