My most memorable moments covering sports (Part 3 – College baseball)
The week that begins with Memorial Day usually ends with NCAA baseball regional tournaments.
But this is an unusual time and there is no NCAA baseball tournament because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So this week is a good time to reflect on previous NCAA baseball tournaments, which have featured numerous memorable times for Louisiana colleges.
LSU has won six national championships, Tulane has been to two College World Series, UNO was the first Louisiana college to make the CWS and Louisiana-Lafayette also has been to Omaha.
In the next part of my 10-article series, here are my top five memories from covering the NCAA baseball tournament.
- 2012 Baton Rouge super regional
It was one of the most disappointing post-season experiences for LSU inside Alex Box Stadium, but it was a remarkable weekend nonetheless.
The No. 7 national seed Tigers were expected to handle little-known Stony Brook, but there’s a reason that games are played.
LSU won the first game, the Seawolves won the second and Stony Brook prevailed in the winner-take-all game, 7-2, as the Tigers scored a total of just three runs in their two losses.
In addition to outstanding pitching, Stony Brook made countless outstanding defensive plays and had timely hitting throughout the weekend. LSU was the higher seed and the more prominent program, but Stony Brook was the better team that weekend.
After the Seawolves finished dogpiling, I witnessed one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen covering sports.
The LSU fans gave the Stony Brook team a standing ovation and waved to the players to take a victory lap and high-fived the Seawolves as they ran around Alex Box.
When Skip Bertman became LSU’s baseball coach he had two major challenges. One was to build a desultory program into a championship one. The other was to teach fans who prided themselves on having the most intimidating football venue in the country to understand that baseball is different.
Sure home-field advantage was still important, but Bertman taught the Tigers fans to respect the game and to respect the opponent.
Fans at the Box learned to applaud LSU hitters who made strategic outs by grounding out to the right side with a runner on second, and to applaud opposing pitchers when they were removed after an outstanding performance.
Imagine the players from a little school on Long Island coming into the home stadium of one of the elite programs in college baseball and earning their first trip to the College World Series.
It was a job well done and they deserved a victory lap. Kudos to those Tigers fans for providing it.
- LSU in the 2013 College World Series
The Tigers did make it to Omaha a year after the disappointment against Stony Brook.
LSU fans were disappointed again as the No. 4 national seed lost its first two games and headed home long before anyone expected.
But it was my first chance to get a taste of the love affair between the LSU baseball fans and the city of Omaha. The Tigers have spent a lot of time in Omaha and they bring a lot of fans and their fans buy a lot of food and beverages and turn Omaha into a mini-Mardi Gras.
While awaiting LSU’s first game, a couple of colleagues and I went to Barrett’s Barleycorn Pub & Grill, the Tigers’ fans party headquarters, so I could do the obligatory story on the love affair between the host city and their favorite visitors.
LSU’s performance was a dud, but the fans gave their usual championship performance and the folks at Barrett’s and throughout Omaha loved having them.
It also marked the last time I would cover Tigers legends such as Alex Bregman, Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes.
It was a fun ride.
- 2005 Tulane super regional
It was the biggest baseball weekend ever on the Tulane campus.
The Green Wave were the preseason No. 1 team in the country, stayed atop the polls for most of the season and entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 national seed.
Rick Jones’ team hosted Wayne Graham’s Rice team, which won the first game of the super regional. But Tulane bounced back and won the next two games to reach the CWS for the second time in five years.
Playing the tournament at Turchin Stadium made the experience that much more special for the Green Wave fans.
- 2014 Lafayette regional
The Ragin’ Cajuns finished the season as the No. 1-ranked team in the country, earning them the right to play at home for an opportunity to reach Omaha.
Moore Field was overflowing with fans the entire weekend, which began in shocking fashion as Texas Southern beat a slugging UL-Lafayette team 1-0.
The late, great Tony Robichaux, the Cajuns coach, shrugged off the loss while the college baseball world was stunned, saying essentially, “that’s baseball.”
Robichaux tweaked his batting order and instituted more mandatory take signs to prevent the Cajuns from being overly aggressive – as they had been in the opener – and getting better pitches to hit. The offense came back to life and UL-Lafayette won four games in 56 hours to advance to its first home super regional against Ole Miss a week later.
I already had planned a trip for the following weekend so I couldn’t cover the super regional, which the visiting Rebels won.
That was just as well because I’d rather remember the euphoria of the Cajuns, their fans and the entire city of Lafayette at the team’s regional triumph rather than the super regional loss.
- 2001 Tulane-LSU super regional
It was the best team Tulane had had to that point facing the last LSU team that Bertman would coach.
“That had to have been one of the greatest sporting events in the history of the state,” Jones told me last week.
The series drew three sellout crowds at Zephyr Field for a total of 35,268 fans, which set a super regional record that stood for 14 years.
LSU won the first game, Tulane won the second and Tulane won the finale, earning its first trip to the College World Series and ending Bertman’s career.
College baseball has provided countless special experiences for fans throughout the state of Louisiana.
Hopefully next Memorial Day will be a launching point for more special college baseball experiences.
- < PREV Special athletes who found both MLB and NBA success
- NEXT > 2020 Manning Passing Academy camp canceled due to pandemic
CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian
Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…