OMAHA, Neb. — In their annual betting pool, the waitresses at Anthony’s Steakhouse waded in to wheel and deal for the right to pick LSU to win the College World Series.
The Tigers always win popularity contests here at the home of the CWS. There are two good reasons for that: LSU fans come to Omaha in droves and leave lots of their money behind (much of it on their bar tabs), and the Tigers have never beaten Nebraska in football.
But wide-open wallets and wide-of-the-mark field-goal attempts don’t cut much ice when wagers are on the line.
The wise wait staff at one of Omaha’s venerable steakhouses is onto something significant, which is this:
The LSU Tigers are the best team at this year’s College World Series.
The LSU Tigers should reach their seventh heaven with CWS title No. 7.
The NCAA selection committee seriously undervalued the Tigers with a No. 4 national seed. Three of the four national polls, which of course mean zilch in this sport, had LSU No. 1.
Statistics are a bear on the Tigers’ behalf. In a field in which only three national seeds got this far, the Tigers have the best batting average (.308), the second-best ERA (2.41) and best fielding percentage (.980).
The Tigers hit through their lineup better than they did last year, when they were a No. 7 national seed but saw their CWS hopes run aground against Stony Brook.
They have excellent starting pitching in Aaron Nola and Cody Glenn, if (granted, a huge if) Glenn can come back and continue to throw well despite not yet stepping on the mound in the NCAA tournament. They play the aforementioned superb defense and have leadership from eight seniors, an uncommonly large class in a sport where the best players are usually gone after three years.
The nation’s best record (57-9) is another telling marker in the Tigers’ favor.
Now all of these things may stack up on LSU’s side, and the Tigers could easily ride out of here disappointed like six other teams will. It’s baseball, the sport where the most solidly hit screamer of a line drive can find a glove, and an “excuse-me” dink down the baseline can turn into a triple.
But if the baseball gods don’t forsake LSU with something screwy happening, fortune should smile on the Tigers. The best athletes and the best teams usually get the best breaks, and that should be LSU’s fate in the 2013 CWS.
Here’s another factor to consider: pressure, or the lack thereof.
When Paul Mainieri and his players came into the interview room after they shellacked Oklahoma 11-1 to win the Baton Rouge Super Regional, you could almost hear the pressure valve being released like the steam whistle from the museum piece locomotive outside TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
After Stony Brook, LSU players and coaches were left to feel as though they failed despite winning 47 games and the Southeastern Conference regular-season title. That made getting here this year a yearlong quest for redemption.
You don’t think Mainieri and seniors like Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes felt pressure to avoid being the first LSU senior class in three decades to go through without making it to Omaha? Expectations weighed on this team like an anchor dragging across a lakebed.
Every team and every player has a pressure barrier. The bet here is the Tigers have punched through theirs and as a result will play with the hard-to-find mix of intensity and relaxation that makes for the most baseball success.
There are concerns. This is a sport where it’s impossible to have, pardon the phrase, all the bases covered. Is Sean McMullen’s hamstring a full go? Is JaCoby Jones, in so many ways the straw that stirs LSU’s offensive drink, feeling well enough to be at the top of his game, as he was in the super regional?
Can Christian Ibarra break out of the hitting funk that enveloped him against Oklahoma? Just what will happen if Ryan Eades is called on to make a critical start with the season on the line?
It would take nearly two full weeks for LSU to find all the answers before the CWS ends.
Here’s betting that they will.
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