Simple mathematics tells you the LSU Tigers are three-fifths of the way to Omaha.
Three wins in a regional and two in a super regional, and it’s baseball and beef (medium well, please) in the heartland starting next weekend. With a side of pasta for Paul Mainieri at his favorite Omaha Italian restaurant.
Of course, the equation is never so simple. The foes get tougher, the slope gets steeper the closer you get to the summit.
The Tigers who were on last year’s team know that as well as anyone.
On Tuesday, it will have been 359 days since LSU was eliminated from last year’s NCAA tournament with a 4-3 super regional loss to Coastal Carolina.
Losing to the team that eventually won it all — the Chanticleers went on to become the most surprising College World Series champion since Fresno State in 2008 — holds little solace for someone like shortstop Kramer Robertson.
Robertson has kept a picture on his cell phone of him on his knees at short while the Coastal players danced deliriously in the background. The image has fueled his passion, his obsession if you will, ever since, stoking a fire that he simply won’t allow to be extinguished until he gets what he wants.
“I’ve been preparing for this weekend since Coastal Carolina walked off with the win,” Robertson said Sunday night after LSU’s 5-0 regional-clinching win over Rice. His voice was low, measured. “I’ve thought about it every single day. You try throughout the year not to think about it, and you can take care of the job at hand. But this is the job at hand now.”
In the movie “The Prestige,” Michael Caine’s elderly magician’s ingénieur delivers the line, “Obsession is a young man’s game.” Indeed it is, and Robertson has played that game to the hilt. He was but a reserve role player in 2015 when LSU last went to the CWS and wasn’t on the roster that the Tigers took to Omaha. To be denied his dream last year was excruciating. To be denied this year is a prospect too bitter for the senior to contemplate.
“There is nothing more that I want than to win two more games,” Robertson said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about as a kid. I came back to school for my senior year as well as a few other guys (for this). I’ve been preparing myself for the last 350-something days for this weekend.”
LSU’s late-season surge from a team bumping along in the middle of the Southeastern Conference pack to red-hot SEC regular-season and tournament champion turned national seed has gotten much attribution to Robertson’s speech before the Alabama series that started it all. That series is the line of demarcation between the Tigers’ 27-15 start and their torrid 19-2 run since, which includes a winning streak that now runs to 14 games.
Though LSU managed only six hits against Rice, the hitting has been excellent overall. The Tigers have scored in double digits in seven of their past nine games. Though Jared Poché and Alex Lange got knocked around at the start of their regional games, the pitching has been plenty good enough, especially when you factor in the start Eric Walker had Sunday and the work the once-suspect bullpen has done. And while the defense committed five errors in the regional opener against Texas Southern, it tightened up as the regional went on, with some stellar work behind Walker and reliever Zack Hess against Rice to preserve LSU’s fourth shutout during its winning streak.
That math all adds up to a potent LSU team that now moves into the program’s 13th super regional since it became part of the NCAA tournament in 1999. But Mainieri knows it takes a little more to reach the ultimate goal, and that these two wins can be so hard to acquire.
“When you start the NCAA tournament, you know it takes five,” said Mainieri, who has the Tigers in their seventh super regional in 10 seasons since 2008. “We’re three-fifths of the way there. And I think you’re going to see a team come out (this) week and play nice and loose and aggressive and confident, and we’ll get after it. Hopefully have some success and then go on to Omaha after that.”
Maybe then Robertson can erase that maddening but motivating image from his mind. And his phone.