OMAHA, Neb. — The LSU baseball team’s brief flirtation with underdog status is over. Goliath defeated a bigger Goliath on Saturday.
It feels absurd to label a 52-win team that won the regular season and postseason titles in the toughest conference in college baseball an “underdog.” But that’s what LSU was heading into this weekend, in need of two wins in two days against an opponent that had only lost four times all season.
After losing to Oregon State 13-1 and dropping into the elimination bracket, LSU’s chances to move on to the final series looked bleak. But LSU coach Paul Mainieri remained positive, even going as far as joking about the situation entirely.
“We kind of tricked them into taking us lightly by letting them beat us 13-1 earlier,” Mainieri joked. “I wish I could tell you that was the motivation but it wasn’t. … It [was] just one game. It just means we’ve got to come out of the loser’s bracket. And the silver lining of the loser’s bracket is you get to play more games.
“You get to become more confident and comfortable in your surroundings. Your back is against the wall and you know if you lose one more you’re done. But the idea of playing more games and not taking three days off was kind of appealing to us as well. I think we took advantage of that.”
Staying on a regular game schedule did more than acclimate LSU to its surroundings. The Tigers also were able to retain the confidence they had built in winning 17 games in a row before the Oregon State loss.
Sure, Oregon State was on a 23-game winning streak. But as LSU second baseman Cole Freeman explained, Oregon State’s success never weighed on the Tigers. Freeman and his teammates always knew they could compete.
“There wasn’t much talk about, ‘They’ve only lost four times. They’ve only lost four times,’ ” Freeman said. “It was just how confident we were. We talked about it, especially after the game [Friday]. We feel as good as anybody. There’s so much confidence in this locker room right now. And that’s the most important thing this time of year.”
Senior starting pitcher Jared Poché agreed. Poché said that this LSU team has been confident all year, even through the rough patches. But confidence only gets you so far. Confidence doesn’t hold the No. 1 team in the country to five hits and two runs in 18 innings.
Mainieri expressed nothing but respect for what coach Pat Casey and his Oregon State squad were able to accomplish. There was also a little empathy in there, too. Mainieri still remembers 2013, when LSU arrived in Omaha with a 57-9 record and didn’t win the national title.
But Mainieri said it was important to remember that LSU didn’t let Oregon State win and Oregon State didn’t beat itself. LSU, in Mainieri’s opinion, played well enough for two games to earn two victories. It wasn’t as if Oregon State was swinging at bad pitches or making errors around the infield. LSU just went out and won the games.
Which Poché still has a bit of a hard time putting into perspective.
“It’s incredible, man. It’s hard to believe,” he said. “They only had four losses until [Friday]. We knew we had our hands full, but we were still confident in ourselves that if we played our game, we thought we were going to come out on top. And we played our game. We played as well as we could play the last two days and we got two Ws.”