FORT WORTH, Texas — Going into its final event in the Super Six finals Saturday night, the LSU gymnastics team needed a big score to secure the highest finish at the national meet in school history.
The Tigers got it.
No. 3 LSU, the nation’s top team on vault, came up with a 49.525 to nail down second place in the team race with a final score of 197.450 with hundreds of purple and gold-clad fans cheering them on in a jam-packed Fort Worth Convention Center.
The Tigers’ previous best national finish came in 2014, when they were third. Oklahoma claimed its second title in three years with a score of 197.675, ending Florida’s three-year run of national championships. Oklahoma and Florida shared the crown in 2014, when LSU claimed third place.
Alabama settled for third at 197.4375 after making a late run at the Tigers. The Crimson Tide was followed by Florida (197.350), UCLA (196.825) and Georgia (196.8125).
For D-D Breaux, who was completing her 39th season as the Tigers’ coach, the runner-up finish was just as good as winning the national title.
“In this event, in this environment with the kind of fight this team had, yeah, it’s a win,” she said. “I’m going to take this (trophy) home and take a victory lap with it.”
After two rotations on the bars and beam, LSU needed a big-time finish on floor and vault — where they ranked second and first in the nation going into nationals.
After all six teams had completed two rotations, LSU was in fifth with a 98.4635 score. Alabama led with a 98.700 and Oklahoma was second with a 98.675, while Florida was lurking with a 98.575.
During their second bye, LSU’s gymnasts tried to stay loose by mimicking fashion models walking a catwalk behind a riser at one end of the arena. But Breaux got their minds back on track quickly before they went to floor.
“I went back there and said, ‘Let’s get this out of your head,’ ” Breaux said. “I gave them a little bit of a wake-up call. I told them I’d be remiss as a coach if I didn’t come back here and tell you that you can win this thing.
“ ‘You have to go out there and do your best gymnastics for the next two events, and get rid of this right here. Let’s focus on what’s about to come.’ ”
With their backs to the wall, the Tigers delivered a 49.4625 on floor when All-Americans Ashleigh Gnat and Myia Hambrick scored matching 9.925s to set up a big finish on vault, when they topped the floor score with a 49.525.
While it was only their third-highest score of the season on vault, trailing the 49.550 and 49.525 they had earlier, it was big considering that scores are generally tighter at the national championships.
Freshman Julianna Cannamela started off a string of three consecutive 9.90s on vault with Sydney Ewing and Sarah Finnegan following suit.
After Jessican Savona and Hambrick came up with scores of 9.850 and 9.8750, Gnat anchored with a 9.95 — the highest score of the competition.
Gnat said the Tigers had no idea where they stood going into vault and never looked at the scoreboard.
“I had no idea until I finished my vault, then I ran back to the corral and I realized how close it was,” Gnat said. “After beam, we knew that we could still win. It was never like, ‘Oh, my gosh. … We have to do so good to win.’ We had to be ourselves and we had to have fun, and that’s exactly what we did.”
That finale came after LSU got the 9.925s from Gnat and Hambrick on floor with freshman McKenna Kelley notching a 9.90.
LSU needed those scores in a big way after the Tigers wobbled a bit coming out of the gate. They scored a 49.1250 on their first event — uneven bars — with Hambrick scoring a 9.850 to lead the team.
While LSU was consistent with five scores between 9.8125 and 9.850, it took a hit when Finnegan, who earned All-America status in the semifinals Friday with a 9.90, fell in the second-to-last position and received a 9.30 score.
Still, LSU didn’t have to count Finnegan’s score as the lowest of the six competitors is thrown out.
From there, LSU went to the beam, where the Tigers scored a 49.3375 — the highest they’ve scored at nationals.
Erin Macadaeg and Hambrick started it with 9.8975s, and Finnegan rebounded nicely with a 9.8750.
But they surged into position to finish second with the floor and vault.
“We were a little bit shaky in spots here and there. … Give me those back, and it’s a different outcome,” Breaux said. “You have to learn how to compete to win. This come-from-behind push to win is probably the biggest lesson this team will ever learn, and we can take that into many, many years to come.”