OMAHA, Neb. — LSU shortstop Kramer Robertson sees the College World Series finals this week as the most familiar version of uncharted territory possible.
“[It’s] just like an SEC weekend,” Robertson said. “Just more at stake.”
The two teams that tied for the SEC regular-season title — No. 3 Florida and No. 4 LSU — will meet up in the College World Series finals beginning at 7 p.m. ET Monday. The conference rivals took different paths to get to this point, with LSU pushing its way through the losers’ bracket and Florida taking three out of four games in the winners’ bracket.
But they’re both here. And this is exactly how LSU coach Paul Mainieri wanted it to happen.
“Truth be told, I was rooting for [Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan] and the Gators last night,” Mainieri said. “I just think it’s an awesome thing that these two SEC schools get to play for a national championship.
“Probably the only person that’s happier than you and I, Kevin, is Greg [Sankey], the commissioner of the SEC. He’s anxious to get up here and get behind home plate so as not to show any favoritism.”
These two teams are no strangers. The Gators took two of three games against the Tigers in March, allowing just 1 run in the first two games of the series. LSU won the third game with a furious comeback effort, but the Gators outscored the Tigers, 15-11, in the series.
One of the stars for Florida in that series was No. 2 starter Brady Singer. Singer allowed 1 run in a complete-game victory over the Tigers on March 25, striking out 4 and allowing no walks and 6 hits. The sophomore right-hander said his main takeaway from that game was keeping his pitch count down, allowing him to remain reliant on his sinking fastball and mixing in his changeup and slider.
But, obviously, these are not the same two teams that met in Gainesville three months ago. LSU has watched as freshmen such as Zack Hess and Zach Watson have emerged in its College World Series run. Florida has found reliable bullpen presences from younger players such as Michael Byrne and Tyler Dyson.
“Obviously, we’re both different clubs,” O’Sullivan said. “They’re probably a little deeper offensively than us. But we both played great defense. I know Paul likes to be aggressive on the base paths and they hit a ton, so we’ll have to do a good job there.
“Like I just said, it’s going to come down to who executes. I don’t think the weekend in March has anything to do with what’s going to happen here in the next couple of days.”
Singer and Florida first baseman JJ Schwarz agreed with their coach’s assessment about the impact of the series in March. Florida came into that series with a 13-8 record but has won 24 of its last 30 games. LSU has been just as good, winning 25 of its last 28.
All this sets up a College World Series finale between the two hottest teams in the SEC and the country. Batter up.
“Great teams always tend to play better as the season progresses,” LSU senior pitcher Jared Poché said. “So, with all of the experience that we’ve gotten throughout the entire season, all the freshmen on both teams are not considered freshmen anymore.
“They have a whole season of experience. So, I think that is a big difference in the game, just how much experience each team has now.”