East: Late falters aside, these Tigers raised the bar

No one can empathize with the 2013 LSU baseball team more than the 2011 LSU football team.

Both experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat as acutely in the same season as any team could.

No teams know better than they do how large a shadow their ultimate defeats cast on their preceding historic series of victories. And perhaps only they can fully appreciate what they accomplished on their way to the championship round.

No, 2013 won’t be added to The Intimidator in right field at Alex Box Stadium, just as there is no national championship flag emblazoned with 2011 flying in Tiger Stadium.

The most successful baseball teams in Tigers history remain the 1991, ’93, ’96, ’97, 2000 and ’09 teams. They placed themselves above all others by winning national championships, just as the 1958, 2003 and 2007 football teams separated themselves by winning national titles.

The essence of sports is that a months-long season is primarily defined by what happens last. Everyone knows it going in, they dedicate themselves to prevailing when it counts most and whoever wins at the end is the rightful champion.

That’s what drives coaches and players. It’s also what must be maddening to teams such as these.

Both achieved unprecedented accomplishments, but when the stakes were the highest, they both fell far short of the lofty standards they had established in the preceding months.

No football team in LSU or NCAA history had a better regular season than the ’11 Tigers, but Alabama got the crystal football.

In the 66 games preceding the College World Series, these Tigers were the most successful in school history and a near-consensus No. 1 team in the country before going 0-2 in Omaha, Neb.

Even with that shortcoming, this team finished with the best record in LSU history at 57-11. It won Southeastern Conference West Division and SEC tournament titles as it won more conference games, regular-season games and pre-CWS games than any team in school history. It went undefeated in winning regional and super regional championships.

At some point before the start of next season, those championships will be commemorated inside the team meeting room — the one called “The Omaha Room” — just as banners commemorating the 2011 football team’s SEC West and conference championships were hung in the relative obscurity of the indoor practice facility.

The accomplishments of these kindred teams are not displayed as publicly as those of their national championship-winning predecessors but, inside the programs, there will be an enduring recognition of and appreciation for the significance of what was achieved.

Their legacy isn’t that they failed to achieve the ultimate goal. It’s that they raised the standard for their successors as they try to accomplish the ultimate goal.