BATON ROUGE, La. — Make no mistake: The 2017 LSU baseball season was a success.
Sure, the Tigers finished two wins short of their seventh College World Series championship. But if losing the last game of the season equated to a failure of season, 63 of the teams that made the postseason would be in pretty low spirits right now.
Coming into the 2017 season, LSU was ranked No. 2 in the country. Two days after the end of the season, LSU sits in the same place.
When it comes down to it, this LSU baseball team did exactly what it was expected to do. And in the intense, parity-driven state of college sports, living up to expectations is a victory in its own right. Just ask former South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook. Or, you know, Les Miles.
It’s not a failure to do what you were expected to do. Especially when you did it the way LSU did. The Tigers jelled as a cohesive unit down the stretch, playing their best baseball in the final two months of the season. They swept the end of the regular season to win the SEC title. Then, come SEC tournament time, another sweep and another title. Same with Regionals and Super Regionals.
Then, in the College World Series, LSU staved off three elimination games. Two of which against the No. 1 team in the country. And in those three games, LSU never trailed.
Yes. LSU dropped the ball in the final two games. And there were some questionable decisions, from leaving Russell Reynolds in for the fourth inning of Game 1 to Jake Slaughter’s takeout slide in Game 2. But until the eighth inning of Game 2, LSU was within one run of winning both games.
Beyond that, forget for a second the team and the outcomes. Look at LSU baseball in its individual units. Look at how Kramer Robertson and Cole Freeman and Jared Poché and Greg Deichmann all improved their draft stocks by coming back for fourth seasons. And how the freshmen led the Tigers to new heights, as Zach Watson led the team in batting average and Josh Smith was an SEC All-Defensive team honoree and Eric Walker posted a .233 batting average against and Zack Hess worked his 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
That’s not mentioning Alex Lange’s All-SEC season leading to his being selected in the first round. Or the emergence of Caleb Gilbert as a dominant bullpen option. Or the consistent success of Antoine Duplantis at the plate.
Were there holes on the roster? Sure. After Bryce Jordan went down with his knee injury, LSU struggled to find production from its designated hitter. And the back-and-forth battle at first base between Nick Coomes and Jake Slaughter left the Tigers with a shortage of power at another premium power position.
But the Tigers managed. Propelled by Deichmann, Michael Papierski’s late-season surge and the continued growth of Watson’s approach, the Tigers averaged almost a home run per game for the season with a slugging percentage of .434, the second-best LSU slugging percentage this decade.
On top of that, LSU posted a .384 on-base percentage, the second best in the SEC, a .289 batting average, also the second-best in the SEC, while striking out the second-most batters and posting the third-best ERA in the conference.
As far as all-around LSU baseball. teams go, this one ranks near the top. Paul Mainieri’s 2017 squad is one of five teams in LSU history to win the SEC regular season title and SEC Tournament championship and reach the College World Series. Two of those other four teams won the College World Series. Two did not. But all five belong in the discussion of the most successful single seasons in school history.
The year might not have ended with a championship, but there were championships littered throughout, from the SEC West through Super Regionals.
The 2017 LSU baseball team did everything it was supposed to do, and possibly a little bit more. And that is worth celebrating in its own right.