5/29/16 5:50 am CST
Good morning, Tiger Fans,
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that LSU lost to Florida, 1-0, and for just the second time since 2012 will not be playing in this year’s SEC Tournament championship game. As I tweeted after the game, I’m still awfully proud of these Tigers for the way they played in their last 16 games, and that stretch of sizzling play should give the NCAA selection committee a lot to think about when selecting seeds for the upcoming tournament. We can pretty much bank on LSU being chosen as a Regional host site, and I’d like to think that winning 14 of the last 16 games, including four wins over teams that were No. 1 in at least one poll, would be enough to earn LSU a top-8 national seed. In just about any other year it surely would be, but with the SEC being as stacked as it is this year, things are far from certain. Regional hosts will be announced tonight at 7:30 pm CT and the top-8 National Seeds will be announced during the Selection Show Monday morning at 11 am CT on ESPN.
In yesterday’s game, Caleb Gilbert got the start for the Tigers and was outstanding. The freshman from Hoover, Alabama, limited Florida to one run on five hits in a career-long 5.2 innings with three walks and three strikeouts. After the game, Coach Mainieri told the media that Gilbert’s performance was enough to solidify his role as the Tigers No. 3 pitcher heading into NCAA tournament play. LSU relievers Doug Norman and Riley Smith were also outstanding as they shutout the Gators and held them hitless for the final 2.1 innings. There are many positives to take away from LSU’s weekend play, but the most encouraging is that LSU’s pitching staff is really clicking on all cylinders right now.
While LSU’s pitching certainly did its part yesterday, LSU’s offense couldn’t provide any run support despite out-hitting Florida, 6-5. The Tigers mounted a threat late in the game as Kramer Robertson led the ninth with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch, and then reached third on pinch-hitter Brody Wofford’s groundout. Beau Jordan stepped up to the plate with two outs and a chance to be the hero but flied out to right field for the game’s final out.
Here are the game’s video recap/highlights and complete boxscore.
“I can’t emphasize enough how proud I am of our team,” Coach Mainieri said after the game. “We are disappointed, believe me. We came here to win a championship and came up a little bit short of that, but the first three games here were amazingly thrilling, and the last three weeks have been amazingly thrilling. I think our team is about as primed as we can possibly be to enter the NCAA Tournament.”
If LSU still gets chosen as a National Top-8 seed, then yesterday’s loss will have meant nothing and might turn out to be a blessing in disguise since LSU now has an extra day to rest its pitching staff. Still, it just doesn’t seem right that Florida is playing today and the Tigers are not, despite both teams being 3-1 in the tournament with losses against each other. The formatting of the SEC Tournament, which resorts back to single elimination in the semifinal round, has bitten LSU in the pants before. You might recall that LSU was undefeated in last year’s tournament before getting eliminated by Florida in the semifinals in a one-run game.
Now for the good news…. Coach Beth Torina’s LSU softball team defeated James Madison two times yesterday to advance to the Women’s College World Series. In the first game, the Tigers got a seven-inning, five-hit shutout in the circle from Allie Walljasper and scored two runs in the fourth to earn a 2-0 win and force a winner-take-all Game 3 later that afternoon. In the second game, Coach Torina went with Sydney Smith in the circle and the freshman did a good job of battling through adversity and limiting the Dukes to two runs on four hits. The contest went down to the wire in a classic nail-biter as the Dukes had the bases loaded with 2-outs trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh before Walljasper, who entered in relief in the fifth inning, shut things down with a huge strikeout. Before yesterday, James Madison had not lost a home game all season, so for the Tigers to do what they did, with their backs against the wall in two must-win situations, tells you just about all you need to know about the relentless fortitude of these Fighting Tigers.
Recap of First Game | Video Highlights | Boxscore
Recap of Second Game | Video Highlights | Boxscore
I don’t think enough can be said about the outstanding job Coach Beth Torina has done with her Tigers. With yesterday’s win, she now has the most WCWS appearances by an LSU head coach (3), and is the first coach to lead the Tigers to back-to-back trips to Oklahoma City. Just as six weeks ago no one would have anticipated Coach Paul Mainieri’s baseball team being where they are today, the same can be said for Torina’s Tigers who had hit a midseason slump before winning 21 of their last 25 games. Both Tiger coaches – Torina and Mainieri – deserve major props for pushing all the right buttons and getting their teams to where they are today.
Turning to our football countdown, with 97 days until LSU’s season opener vs. Wisconsin in Lambeau Field on September 3rd, let’s look back on the 1997 season. In what was Gerry Dinardo's last winning season, the Tigers finished with a 9-3 record just like last last year. What made the season especially memorable for me was one of the most exciting LSU games I’ve ever witnessed – the Tigers’ 28-21 win over No. 1 Florida that snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Gators. If you’ve got 10 minutes to spare and want to get pumped up about LSU football, you can relive that historic moment by watching this video in our Media Gallery.
Another thing I remember about the ’97 season is that it showcased the potential of Cecil Collins. Nicknamed “Cecil the Diesel,” Collins rumbled for over 622 yards in just four games, including an amazing 8.3 yards per carry. His 232 rushing yards in LSU’s 31-28 loss at home vs. Auburn is one of the most memorable performances by an LSU running back in school history.
After Collins suffered a season-ending injury at Vanderbilt, Kevin Faulk took over the reins at running back and didn’t disappoint by recording his second consecutive 1,000 yard season (1,144) in just nine games. Faulk was dominant in a 168-yard, two-TD performance in a 27-0 road victory over Alabama. Still, the Tigers suffered a devastating home loss the following week to Notre Dame (24-6). In what is rare in college football, the Tigers were awarded a rematch with the Irish in the 1997 Independence Bowl. With Faulk hurt early in the contest, sophomore Rondell Mealy had the most impressive performance of his career with 222 rushing yards, which included two critical touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a 27-9 win over Notre Dame.
After the season, Alan Faneca, who would earn first-team All American awards, declared early for the NFL draft and was selected in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately, LSU would suffer back-to-back losing seasons in 1998 and 1999, which would cost Dinardo his job at LSU. With the hiring of Nick Saban, the Tigers would rebound in 2000 and build what is considered as the Golden Age (2000 to 2011 or present, depending on who you talk to) of LSU football history.
Stay tuned, Tiger Fans, as tomorrow we’ll remember another very special season in Tiger history, although it might not be the one you’re expecting.