WORSHAM: LSU Baseball's National Title Was Unlike Anything We've Ever Seen
As the world watched LSU Baseball dramatically and definitively win the 2023 Men’s College World Series, the best storytelling advice I’ve ever heard continually resonated in my head.
“If you pay attention, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before,” longtime sportswriter Dave Kindred has often advised. “Write about that.”
So, after 11 days in Omaha, several days of celebration, and sufficient time to reflect, it’s time to start writing.
Because there was plenty that happened there I’ve never seen before.
I’ve never seen a team win five games in one week – including two wins each over the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in the country – to hoist its seventh national championship. If a team is measured by those it conquers, it will be hard for any successor to outdo the 2023 LSU Tigers, who, after falling to Wake Forest in their second game of the College World Series, beat red-hot Tennessee once, No. 1 Wake Forest twice, and No. 2 Florida two-out-of-three to win the whole thing.
I’ve never seen a team avenge so many painful defeats in such a short span. LSU handed Tennessee – the same Tennessee that eliminated many of these Tigers from postseason play two seasons ago in 2021 – a pair of losses in Omaha, ending their season. LSU then handed Wake Forest – who sent the Tigers to the loser’s bracket with a 3-2 win in Game 8 of the tournament – back-to-back defeats to send the top-ranked Demon Deacons home. And finally, LSU handed Florida – who defeated the Tigers in the 2017 CWS Finals – a pair of losses in the championship series to finish off the Gators. Scores settled – all of them.
I’ve never seen a supposedly neutral site so heavily dominated by one fan base. I’ve never seen a hotel lobby so full, so loud, and so passionate. And I’ve never seen so much Jello consumed in so little time.
I’ve never seen a team with the best pitcher in the sport and the best position player in the sport. I’ve never seen what could very well be the first and second overall picks in the MLB Draft sharing the same jersey for 71 games. I’ve never seen a player get on base in every single game in one season like Dylan Crews did in 2023, and I’ve never seen a pitcher strike out 209 in one season like Paul Skenes did in 2023.
I’ve never seen a pitcher that could stop Crews, and I’ve never seen a hitter that could hit Skenes.
I’ve never seen Skenes pitch better than he did in two starts of the College World Series, and he was at his very best in Game 13, the winner-goes-on, loser-goes-home face-off against Rhett Lowder and Wake Forest. Skenes has had more eye-popping final lines, but his 8 innings, 9 strikeouts, 0 runs, 2 hits, and 120 pitches on June 22, 2023 will outlast them all in the memory of Tiger fans.
I’ve never seen a first baseman make a more athletic or more vital play than Tre Morgan did in that same game against Wake Forest. I’ve never seen a player – who was thrown out at home in the 8th inning two games earlier in a loss – scoop up a bunt, soar like Superman, and shovel the ball to his catcher to nail the runner – at home, in the 8th inning, to preserve a scoreless tie and set the stage for something else I’ve never seen.
TM ➡️ AM
📺 ESPN pic.twitter.com/fQtmEY9vj7
— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) June 23, 2023
I’ve never seen a third baseman smash a walk-off two-run homer in a scoreless, extra-inning game to put his team in the College World Series Finals. I’ve seen Tommy White hit a number of important homers, but I’ve never seen him hit one more important than the one he deposited over the left field fence in the bottom of eleventh to put LSU into the finals against Florida and complete their escape from the loser’s bracket. If it wasn’t for Warren Morris’ walk-off in ‘96 against Miami, I’d have never seen a more memorable Tiger homer.
And I’ve never seen “The Tommy” hit harder.
I’ve never seen an injury-riddled bullpen struggle so much midseason only to dominate so much in the postseason. Whether it was Nate Ackenhausen vs. Tennessee, Griffin Herring vs. Wake Forest, or Riley Cooper versus all of the above, LSU’s relievers delivered when it counted most. So did their starters.
I’ve never seen a pitcher strike out 17 hitters in Game One of the College World Series Final. Ty Floyd pitched his heart out in a must-win game, and it allowed the Tigers to win a best-of-three series against the No. 2 in the country without Skenes ever once toeing the rubber. Floyd mowed down 27 batters in 13 innings in Omaha, and his dominance against Florida will not soon be forgotten, because it set the table for an unforgettable finish.
I’ve never seen a player write a storybook ending to his collegiate career like Cade Beloso. Whether it was the go-ahead homer against Wake Forest or the game-winner against Florida in the opener of the finals, the fifth-year New Orleans native who absolutely bleeds purple and gold left everything he had on the field of Charles Schwab Stadium. He wanted it so bad he couldn’t even watch the final out against the Gators in Game One. In the span of a year, the Bayou Bambino went from walking away from baseball to walking off into the sunset as an LSU legend.
I’ve never seen a player get hit by as many pitches as Gavin Dugas. Whether it was wearing one for the team or battling through a shoulder injury all season long, Dugas wore the famous LSU No. 8 with as much distinction as is possible.
I’ve never seen anything like Dylan Crews, and neither has college baseball. I’ve never seen a player make a hard game look so easy, and I’ve never seen a more accomplished athlete play with such humility and grace. His list of accolades in three years of college baseball – National Freshman of the Year, two-time SEC Player of the Year, three-time All-American, and Golden Spikes Winner – will almost certainly never be matched.
I’ve never seen a pitcher give up two runs and two hits on the first two batters of a championship game, then give up zero runs and zero hits in the six innings that followed. Thatcher Hurd delivered when it counted most.
I’ve never seen a shortstop, who made two errors the game prior and who was 1-for-30 for the tournament, have his name chanted by the entire fanbase the very next day by driving in the first runs of the game and sparking a national-title winning rally. Jordan Thompson delivered, too.
I’ve never seen a team win the first game of the CWS finals with a homer in extra innings, lose Game Two by surrendering 24 runs, only to win Game Three by scoring 18 of their own. Only a team like this one – so in sync with each other and its coach, so locked in, not on the goal, but on the moment in front of them – could have pulled it off. Jay Johnson will need to build a new cabinet in his office to hold all the hardware he will win for his coaching work this season, but somehow, he still won’t get enough credit for getting the best out of his players when the best was what the moment required.
I’ve never seen a coach more ready to win a championship than Johnson was when he arrived at LSU, and I’ve never seen a coach happier to win one than Johnson was when the Tigers recorded the final out.
I’ve never seen a team blend a local core (Milazzo, Dugas, Morgan, Beloso) and a transfer portal haul (Skenes, Hurd, White) so effectively.
I’ve never seen a more perfect celebration – Crews pointing at his ring finger after a triple, Skenes carrying Alex Milazzo on his back to the dogpile, Johnson embracing his wife on the field, and a stadium filled with Tiger fans roaring in approval.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve never seen so many things I’ve never seen before – until the Tigers went to Omaha for 11 days in June. I don’t know how you follow up a season like that, and I don’t know what the Tigers have in store for us in 2024.
But I can’t wait to see what’s next. I’m sure there will be a thing or two worth writing down.
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