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Monday, June 30, 2008

So long, Skip

And so the Skip Bertman era as AD at LSU comes to a close.

I know there are some who have been critical of Bertman in the past.

But good grief, the man has some skins on the wall.

-- 2 football national championships during his tenure
-- 3 College World Series appearances
-- 5 women's Final Four trips
-- 1 men's Final Four trip
-- 19 of 20 sports in the postseason this year.

By any measure, you have to give the guy a tip of the hat.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

More on Muna

In reading some of the coverage of Muna Lee winning the women's 100 meters at the Olympic Trials, it said she was working out in College Station, Texas.

At first, I was taken aback a bit. Why would a former LSU star work out in College Stadion?

Then after reading a bit more, it came into focus. She was coach by Pat Henry and Kevin Anderson at LSU. Both are at Texas A&M now and thus the training time spent in College Station.

Still, she'll go in the books as an LSU Olympian.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Big day at Olympic trials

It was a good day to be an LSU or former LSU sprinter at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Muna Lee, a former LSU sprinter, won the women's 100 meters.

Former LSU sprinter Xavier Carter and current LSU sprinter and wide receiver Trindon Holliday all reached the semifinals in the men's 100.

There figures to be some LSU flavoring to the U.S. Olympic track team.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Recruiting talk

I've been doing some talking to college football coaches the last couple of weeks and it appears that there are three players that stand out above the rest in the state this season.

Let's start with defensive tackle Chris Davenport at Mansfield. He's considered to be a heavey lean to LSU. One of the college coaches I was talking to this week figures Davenport to eventually move to the offensive line in college.

At the skill positions, Bastrop wide receiver Rueben Randle ranks No. 1. Randle has seemingly everyone after him, including Nick Saban at Alabama, the boys at Miami and on down the line. Rest assured, Randle is a high priority at LSU.

Then there is linebacker Barkevious Mingo at West Monroe. The coaches I talked to absolutely love this guy. They think he'll eventually end up as a pass-rushing defensive end. But again, this is LSU and everybody and their brother recruiting Mingo.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Don't get it

LSU forward Anthony Randolph was a lottery pick -- by the skin of his teeth.

Randolph went to the Golden State Warriors with the 14th -and final pick - of the lottery.

Sorry, I don't get the NBA.

Guys that have productive college careers (see Jamont Gordon of Mississippi State)don't get drafted. Guys who have lots of potential - and admittedly a good freshman season - go in the lottery pick.

I hope I'm wrong about Randolph, but he always seemed a bit soft. We shall see. As for now, good for him.

Friday, June 20, 2008

And so it ends

It's hard to believe that one of the greatest athletic years in LSU history ends with a ninth-inning, elimination-game loss in the College World Series, but hey, stuff happens.

LSU fans can lament missed chances (bases loaded, one out in the eighth and not scoring would fit the bill) but no one should be down on this team.

They made LSU baseball relevant again. They even encouraged some to dream impossible dreams.

In a year when LSU won football and women's track national championships, LSU fans probably didn't expect a gut-wrenching loss to end the sports year. But any fan who takes a step back will see a year when LSU (minus men's basketball) had a phenomenal year.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Blame Trent Johnson

OMAHA, Neb. - LSU basketball coach Trent Johnson has only himself to blame for his resume snafu that recently surfaced concerning his time at Boise High School in Boise, Idaho, from 1980-85.

A bio of Johnson in a Stanford media guide had Johnson as the head coach of that team, which wasn't the case. He was an assistant. Someone in a sports information department somewhere among Johnson's coaching stops could have easily made that mistake and it just kept being made. That's happened before in the sports information business. Today's sports information department people tend to no longer have much of a journalism background, lack respect for journalism and make even more mistakes than newspaper people.

But this was Johnson's responsibility. He should read anything about him that is put out by the university that employs him.

Johnson, who left Stanford to come to LSU in April, used the term "comical" to describe the issue, which was brought up recently by a newspaper in Idaho. He said he doesn't like to read about himself, which made him sound modest, if you buy that.

Sounds careless and sloppy to me.

"I don't read my bios," Johnson said. "I don't pay attention to that. It's a joke."

Well, Trent, recruits read your bio. Recruits' parents read your bio. Journalists writing stories about you that recruits and recruits' parents will read also read your bio. You should have read everything written about you by a university for which you worked.

I find Johnson's explanations of this issue "comical" for that matter. Most coaches on the collegiate level are very controlling, somewhat paranoid and somewhat anal.

The good ones, like Johnson, usually know about everything going on in and around their program. I find it hard to believe Johnson didn't read his own bio in a Stanford media guide.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

LSU will beat North Carolina Thursday

OMAHA, Neb. - Wednesday is day seven of LSU's trip to Omaha. The Tigers got here Thursday night. They went to Rosenblatt Stadium Friday afternoon, looked around, practiced, had dinner and went through the opening ceremonies. On Saturday, they watched a few innings of the College World Series opener between Stanford and Florida State and then practiced at their off-Rosenblatt home of Creighton University.

They've been to various steak houses. They went to the zoo on Wednesday after an extremely loose practice in which coach Paul Mainieri spent most of his time on the phone or doing interviews. They've lost a game, and they've won a game. The game they won - 6-5 over Rice Tuesday night with four runs in the bottom of the ninth, including a walk-off, three-run double by Blake Dean - was like so many they've won this season. It was particularly similar to the 5-4 win over South Carolina to start the Southeastern Conference Tournament last month. LSU trailed that game 4-0 going into the bottom of the ninth and scored four to tie before winning it in the 10th on a walk-off home run by Dean.

So, LSU is now at home in Rosenblatt and its surroundings. The novelty of the trip is over. The steaks are great, but some of the guys are considering lighter fare like chicken.

It's time to just play baseball. The seventh-seeded Tigers (49-18-1) play second-seeded North Carolina (52-13) at 6 p.m. Thursday in an elimination game. LSU lost to North Carolina 8-4 on Sunday as Tar Heel ace Alex White handcuffed the Tigers as well as any pitcher since LSU embarked on its 23-0 run in mid-April. White will not be pitching Thursday.

North Carolina will throw freshman All-American Matt Harvey, a right-hander who is 7-2 with a 2.52 ERA. He's a stud, but he's no Alex White. LSU will throw junior left-hander Blake Martin, who is 5-3 with a 4.89 ERA. LSU does not have a stud pitcher, but they have nearly a dozen good ones. Martin is one of the better ones, and he's a lefty. He also pitched a little Sunday just so he could toe the rubber at Rosenblatt to see what it feels like, Mainieri said.

Martin will not pitch great, but he'll keep the Tigers in the game, which is what Jared Bradford did on Tuesday. Bradford allowed seven hits and five earned runs, but he continually limited the damage through six and two-thirds innings and struck out 10 while waiting for the offense to arrive. Then LSU's bullpen, which may be the best overall contingent in Omaha, shut the door, and the bats finally woke up.

Coleman will likely pitch again Thursday. If Martin can go five or six, it would be ideal. Paul Bertuccini will be ready after pitching twice here already. He'll have the kinks out.

LSU for the first time since it arrived in Omaha will play a good game Thursday from start to finish, and that will be enough.

Tigers 8, North Carolina 6. LSU will advance to a 6 p.m. game Friday against Fresno State (44-29), which is 2-0. It's getting interesting.

As premium LSU baseball fan Marvin "Big Ragoo" Dugas said as he took his seat in Alex Box on the Sunday of the NCAA South I Regional in 1990 before LSU's first game with USC, which LSU had to win for a second one, "Y'all get comfortable now. Get comfortable. We're going to be here for awhile."

The Tigers are settling into Alex Box North.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Omaha-itis hits Tigers

OMAHA, Neb. - For a moment there, everything looked perfect for the LSU baseball team on a cool, picturesque Sunday night at Rosenblatt Stadium. Leadoff hitter Michael Hollander, who had only five home runs all season and had not hit one over his previous 23 games, launched one over the left field fence for a 1-0 lead over North Carolina.

Unfortunately, North Carolina ace Alex White allowed only three more hits into the seventh inning. LSU starter Ryan Verdugo, meanwhile, allowed 10 hits and six runs in just three-and-two-thirds innings. Reliever Paul Bertuccini wild pitched in a run.

Louis Coleman, who has been nearly flawless for weeks, gave up three hits and a run.

Blake Martin, who has been LSU's No. 2 starter often this season, gave up a run and a hit in just two-thirds of an inning.

The Tigers made only one error officially, but they had trouble in the outfield and they didn't make big infield plays when they were there. Blake Dean went 1-for-5, registering one or fewer hits in a game for just the third time in nine games. The usually dangerous bottom of LSU's order - Leon Landry, Derek Helenihi and Ryan Schimpf - went 1-for-12 with three strikeouts.

LSU was clearly not itself. LSU looked like a tourist, a greenhorn. The Tigers looked like first timers, which they are. For the first time in LSU's rich history in Omaha and for the first time since its first time, not one player on the roster had already been here. Every other trip to Omaha, except obviously for the first one in 1986, came after no more than three years since the previous one.

Yes, LSU was afflicted with Omaha-itis.

"This was my second time here," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who took Notre Dame here in 2002. "It does feel different."

The Tigers, who were scheduled to practice at 2 p.m. today, will play better Tuesday at 1 p.m. Unfortunately, so will Rice, which lost 17-5 to Fresno State on Sunday afternoon. Rice is full of players with Omaha experience as it is in its third straight trip to steak heaven and fifth this decade. Often in the loser's bracket, a team gets another greenhorn. Not this time.

It could again be two and barbecue for LSU, but this team is very accustomed to playing under a lot of pressure. The Tigers have basically been in playoff games since it fell to 6-11-1 in the Southeastern Conference back on April 20 against Georgia. They faced elimination last week down 7-2 to California Irvine in the eighth inning of the Super Regional.

If it does not get by Rice tomorrow, the season will still be a great one because the Tigers had been below average for the previous two seasons, they won 23 in a row and they closed Alex Box in classic style. The 2003 and 2004 LSU teams that each went 0-2 in Omaha were veteran teams with players who had been to Omaha.

The good news is if LSU can beat Rice, it has enough pitching to continue to advance in the loser's bracket and make this trip interesting. There are not any great pitchers like a White, but there are enough to win if the rest of the team plays better than it did Sunday.

LSU needs to throw away the films of classic LSU trips to Omaha in 1996 and 1997. It needs to watch the film from last week. It just needs to win one game and see what it's like to like be a native like me.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Not to rain on the parade but ...

LSU desperately needs to win its College World Series game on Tuesday against Rice and for more reasons than just staying alive after tonight's 8-4 loss to North Carolina.

LSU hasn't won a College World Series game since 2000 when the Tigers defeated Stanford for the national championship. They've lost five consecutive CWS games since then.

And while a loss on Tuesday wouldn't take away from the spectacular second-half finish, it would certainly add to a growing monkey on the back, so to speak. But, get a win on Tuesday, and not only does LSU stay alive in the tournament, but the Tigers gain some confidence in Omaha.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

One out of two

LSU didn't sweep the national track championships.

LSU had to settle for a women's title and a second-place tie with Auburn on the men's side.

So while there is something of a disappointment for the program considering the men and women were favored to win the titles, there should be the excitement of winning another women's title.

The depth of LSU's women's program was evident today -- winning the team title without winning a single Saturday event.

It was another great year for LSU track.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Goodbye to Rooney

LSU pitching coach Terry Rooney is headed to Central Florida -- after the end of the College World Series.

Rooney's hiring is a tribute to his work both at LSU and before he got there. It's hard to argue with what he's done for LSU's pitchers this year. As a recruiting coordinator, he brought in some good, young arms. As a pitching coach he's developed them.

His departure is good for himself. Not so good for LSU. Mainieri's hire to replace Rooney will be an important one.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Finally some respect

It took something called CollegeBaseballInsider.com, but the LSU baseball team finally got some respect.

The Web site named LSU coach Paul Mainieri it's national Co-Coach of the Year. He shares the honor with Stanford's Mark Marquess.

I've always maintained if a team doesn't have any all-conference selections and wins a championship (SEC Tournament) then the coach must be doing something right. And Mainieri certainly is deserving for keeping the team afloat before seeing it take off with the 23-game winning streak.

It's an honor well-deserved.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Talking track

With the NCAA track and field championships beginning, there is a lot of talk about LSU sweeping the men's and women's team titles.

I was talking to a track coach (not from LSU) who was explaining how elite teams become elite with 12.6 scholarships. Coaches look at events where they think they can be successful then commit a good deal of their scholarship money in that direction.

This coach used LSU and the sprints as an example. Arkansas in distance events. And on and on.

It appears to be a pretty smart strategy. And one that we'll see how plays out this weekend.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We interrupt baseball season ...

In working on a story about the NCAA track and field championships this week, I came across some polls. And, amazingly, LSU is ranked No. 1 in both the men's and women's track polls.

Now, I knew LSU was good. I also knew Arkansas' men won the SEC meet. And I knew Arizona State had won recently.

But LSU's track success this spring has been lost in the baseball resurgence.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Greetings from Titletown, USA

BATON ROUGE - Three LSU baseball fans got in line outside Alex Box Stadium Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. The Super Regional championship game is not until 6 p.m. The line was getting bigger early this afternoon, and they don't even know if LSU will put a limited number of standing room only tickets on sale an hour or so before the game as they often do. LSU would like to, but it may not have the tickets as so many have already been purchased for this game.

The Tigers play California Irvine tonight on ESPN2 for the right to go to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., in the last game ever to be played in 70-year-old Alex Box Stadium, which has been the launching pad for 11 of LSU's 13 trips to Omaha.

Welcome to Titletown, USA.

I just told a friend not to drive over from Biloxi, Miss., with his two sons because he didn't have tickets, and I didn't think he'd be able to get any. He's coming anyway just to be near if not in.

Louisiana will never get a Major League Baseball team, so this is the closest thing the state has to hosting a World Series. And believe me, a championship game to get to the CWS in 7,760-seat Alex Box may be a scaled down version of somethng in MLB, but it's about as good an atmosphere as you will find in the sports world. In fact, since it's so intimate, it may even be better. Remember, it would have been better to see Springsteen in front of 500 at the Stone Pony Asbury Park, N.J., in the 1980s than in some oversized arena.

If you were at LSU's 9-7 victory Sunday, you know what I mean.

"There's something about this stadium," LSU second baseman Ryan Schimpf said.

For the first time in the NCAA postseason at home, the Tigers came from behind in the ninth inning to win. There have been many other rallies in the eighth and seventh and earlier, but never in the ninth in postseason here. LSU scored five runs in the top of the ninth to take the 9-7 lead and held on. Going into the eighth, it trailed 7-2. Jared Mitchell homered to lead off, and the Tigers added another run to make it 7-4, setting up the ninth.

"That was one of the ages," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "I will always remember this no matter what happens in the future."

More to come in the near future tonight.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Incredible comeback

LSU's ninth-inning heroics against South Carolina in the SEC Tournament were incredible.

They were topped in the second game of the Super Regional.

Trailing 7-2 going into the eighth inning, LSU scored twice in the eighth and five times in the ninth for a 9-7 win. And the Tigers stay alive to force a deciding Game 3.

What was so incredible about this comeback is:

1) LSU looked dead in the water going into the eighth.
2) Cal Irvine's pitching had been up to that point.
3) And you just don't score seven runs in two innings when you need it the most.

Regardless of what happens Monday, LSU baseball has given its fans some memories for a lifetime this season.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Can't win them all

It was inevitable LSU's winning streak would come to an end. And you would have to think it would come to an end at some point in the Super Regional. Cal Irvine has a recent history of road success in the tournament.

You just would have though five runs would be enough. LSU's pitching that had been so good for so long finally ran out a clunker.

The beauty is this is a best-of-three Super Regional. This isn't one and done. There's just no margin for error from here on out.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Night time not the right time

BATON ROUGE - The masses have been in an uproar in recent days since LSU's football season opener against Appalachian State has been moved from a 7 p.m. kickoff to 4 p.m. for ESPN television. That game is on Aug. 30, and it will be as hot at kickoff as it will be for the opening pitch at 3 p.m. Sunday in game two of the LSU-UC Irvine Super Regional at Alex Box Stadium. We're talking mid-90s with a heat index likely approaching 100.

It will not be football weather. Worse yet, it will not be ideal tailgating weather either. This is really why so many are upset.

Night games are truly special in Tiger Stadium. They always have been and always will be. No other football venue can match LSU at night. They're getting more precious because LSU is such an elite program now that it has to often move games to the afternoon CBS slot. ESPN shows LSU a lot, but that time slot is normally at night.

Not the case this time. ESPN has other more interesting games than the Tigers against another lower division opponent. Yes, it is an interesting matchup of the BCS national champions against the I-AA champions. I didn't put the new name for that league on purpose because it is just more silly euphemism-izing. There, I made up a term, too. But it's still another case of LSU's inability to schedule like a man. So, LSU fans, you should feel fortunate that you're still on national television even with the poor scheduling.

You want prime time. Tell your football coach to let his athletic department people, namely Verge Ausberry, schedule with guts. Do not blame Ausberry for this non-conference schedule that includes Troy, North Texas and Tulane this season, while USC will be playing Virginia, Ohio State and Notre Dame out of conference. Miles is the one who does not want to play strong opponents in non-conference. He said last summer that he didn't want to play Virginia Tech, which was a leftover game from the previous coaching staff.

Without the victory over Virginia Tech last season, LSU does not get to the national championship game. Without the loss to LSU and a win over an easier opponet, Virginia Tech makes it to the national title game instead of LSU.

Miles has a good argument. He believes he plays enough difficult opponents in the SEC, and he's right. LSU plays at Auburn, Florida, South Carolina and Arkansas this season, and all four could be good, including those last two. He also has Georgia coming to Tiger Stadium. But he needs to realize that LSU needs that one sexy non-conference opponent each season to help give it that push it may need with the voters and polls to get into the BCS. That's how it got in last season with a record two losses, including a late November setback at home to an average Ar-Kansas.

LSU does have some interesting non-conference games down the road such as Washington, but it really needs to schedule USC. That would be the game of the century. The Trojans obviously play anyone non-conference anywhere, so they're not the stumbling block. Miles is.

But this season, Miles' scheduling philosophy is just what the Tigers need in what could be a rebuilding year, which only means three or four losses instead of one or two. LSU will be very green at quarterback with Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch - in that order. LSU will also be younger and more inexperienced at cornerback this season than perhaps at any time this decade. That's a very important position, too. LSU will be very good this season because it still will have a great defensive line and very good backs, receivers and offensive linemen to help bring a quarterback or two or three along.

Appalachian State, meanwhile, returns much of its national championship team, including quarterback Armanti Edwards. Appalachian State, which knocked off Michigan last season in the Big House, is a very difficult first opponent for LSU, particularly with a nervous quarterback under center in front of 90,000. It would have been better to start Lee's career at Mississippi State, which Matt Flynn enjoyed last season.

LSU does not need App. State to be comfortable and somewhat cool at a 7 p.m. kickoff. LSU needs App. State, which is located in cooler Boone, N.C., to be hot and bothered. When App. State is "warming up" at the 3 p.m. hot point of the day, it's going to realize it's in hell.

LSU needs a defensive game against App. State. It doesn't need to have to rely on Lee or Hatch completing passes. LSU needs a 4 p.m. kickoff on Aug. 30.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

What are they thinking?

I'm looking at this freshmen All-American team from Collegiate Baseball -- and let me say, it's deep, like seven first basemen deep.

But I see players from Tulane and even Centenary. But no one from LSU.

I guess DJ LeMahieu's .336 batting average just wasn't good enough.

Seriously, how much more disrespect can come to one team. I understand LSU's season is split in two (pre-streak and streak), but come on, the guy is a .300-plus hitter in the SEC.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Hot fun

So LSU will kick off the 2008 football season in August and in the afternoon.

Wow, that sounds pleasant.

First things first. There wasn't much that could be done about the Aug. 30 playing date. That's the first playing Saturday and if you want to have an open week -- and what college football coach doesn't -- then you'll be teeing it up in August.

The 4 p.m. kickoff against Appalchian State is a different thing altogether. This is the price you pay for selling your soul to network/cable TV.

The game will be televised nationally on ESPN at 4 p.m.

I'm guessing, with 92,000-plus in the stands, 4 o'clock in the afternoon in August, that it will be a rather miserable afternoon from a comfort standpoint. You have to figure the sun won't have gone down by the end of the game.

To get ready for the opener, LSU fans need to do some of their own conditioning -- like getting used to being out in the sun.

The good news is this: LSU won't play a hotter game all season.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Prepare for a long, hot summer

BATON ROUGE - To the the typical, football-first LSU fan, the best thing about college baseball is how it helps fight the pigskin addiction.

When the LSU baseball team is good, it makes the summer shorter. When the LSU baseball team is great, it can virtually erase the summer. Well, look for a lot of unkempt lawns around Louisiana this summer.

It could be nearly July before the LSU sports season ends if the Tigers defeat UC-Irvine this weekend in the Super Regional at Alex Box Stadium, where they have never lost a Super Regional, and advance through their bracket at the College World Series to the national championship, best-of-three series. The CWS runs from Saturday, June 14 to Wednesday, June 25 if the championship series goes three games.

By June 25, the LSU football players will be three weeks into their summer weight lifting and conditioning program. One month later, and it will be time for the Southeastern Conference Media Days in Birmingham, Ala. Then football practice starts.

Ladies, your "Honey-Do" window is shrinking.

When Warren Morris hit the most dramatic home run in college baseball history to win the 1996 World Series for LSU, it was June 8. LSU will likely be playing this June 8 in the Super Regional. There are so many days off in the CWS format now, one could apply for citizenship in Omaha. It's ridiculous. If the Tigers win their first two CWS games, fans will have enough time to drive home and back to Omaha for the next game. The World Series now outlasts the NBA Playoffs. What's next? The national championship game in baseball followed by the college football season opener?

Get ready. LSU has that type of team this year. The winning streak is at an SEC-record 23 now. Seven more wins and the Tigers are national champions. By then, it will be time to start making your tailgating evacuation plans.

Enjoy. And if you bring the kids to Omaha, you'll have enough time for back-to-school shopping.