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Hobbs Column: There’s got to be a first time for everything

Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 2:54 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

OMAHA, Neb. — LSU has quite the storied history in the College World Series, of course, and the Tigers wear it on their sleeves, embracing it as enthusiastically as the locals here embrace them.

But now, after losing their opener to UCLA 2-1, the Tigers will be battling their history, trying to overcome it and slay some demons, beginning with an elimination game against North Carolina today.

LSU has those six national titles, two of the four walk-off national championships in CWS history.

You think of LSU and Omaha, you think of delirious home plate celebrations and purple and gold dogpiles.

But there’s another side to the story.

The Tigers don’t ALWAYS win.

In fact, when put in the awkward position they’re in today — facing early elimination and a quick ticket home — there haven’t been very many high fives.

Four of LSU’s six national champions breezed through Omaha undefeated. Only one lost a game before reaching the championship round.

“It’s very doable,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said after Sunday night’s frustrating loss.

Certainly it is. Well, maybe.

Only three teams in the 22 years of the current double-bracket format have lost their first game and come back to win the national championship, most recently South Carolina in 2010.

Certainly LSU, for all its uplifting Omaha escapades over the years, has never done it.

Or really come remotely close.

Since the current format was put in play, LSU has lost its opener four times — 1994, 2003, 2004 and 2008.

Only in 2008 did they even stay alive to play another day — and only one more day.

The first three ended up two-and-out, sending LSU home winless. In 2008, they needed a dramatic ninth-inning, comeback walk-off victory over Rice in the first elimination game, and started talking about extending the miracle.

Two days later, North Carolina — yes, today’s opponent — patted them on the head and sent them home with a 7-3 shellacking.

Nice try.

LSU’s record (in this format) after losing the first game is 1-4 thereafter.

They now have to win four straight games just to get to the championship round.

But Mainieri is right. It’s doable. Maybe not very doable, as he said. But not impossible either.

It’s at least worth taking an honest shot at, anyway, and giving it the old college try.

It’s one of the few remaining items on the Tigers’ Omaha bucket list.

It would be something to tell the grandkids about.

And I wouldn’t put it past them.

They have the pitching depth to pull this thing off.

The snail’s pace that this event meanders toward the finals actually gives teams a break in clawing themselves out of the grave.

LSU will play its second game of the CWS today on its sixth day in Omaha.

If they can advance today, the Tigers would have another day off before then needing to win games on three straight days beginning Thursday.

It’s not impossible They’re not going to run out of quality arms anytime soon. Aaron Nola would be available again if they can get to Friday.

Of course, they had the pitching Sunday night against UCLA, and a fat lot of good it did them.

One of the real giggly, top-this stunts LSU has pulled here was to win a national championship with a team that set the school record for errors.

But this isn’t 1993. Defense matters now, and LSU’s failed it in the loss to UCLA.

LSU got its first taste of new TD Ameritrade Park, and it was an eye-opening experience.

Mainieri keeps saying this team was built to play this ballpark.

More like re-tooled, actually, and also begrudgingly.

On the other hand, UCLA, for instance, was born to play in this canyon. Small ball is in their California genes.

The Tigers really are trying to adjust. But they’re not quite there yet.

The defense, despite the foibles in the field against the Bruins, is usually there, and the pitching always has been.

They’ve got to find new ways to score some runs.

UCLA’s bats didn’t scare anybody, but they kept constant pressure on the Tigers while rarely hitting anything hard. A run would score and you’d say, Where’d he come from? How’d that happen?

For the most part, LSU played well, but it only took two hiccups for a couple of runs to slip through the cracks.

Nola didn’t feel a thing — he was as dominating as ever.

LSU, on the other hand, had UCLA mostly settling under lazy fly balls all night.

But don’t blame it on the ballpark and use it as excuse to write LSU off.

No, they’re not going to hit a lot of home runs here. But they’d weaned themselves from that long ago. Even back at cozy Alex Box, the home runs they hit these days are generally an accident.

Where they struggle is pulling a run out of their hat like the Bruins.

It still tends to take stringing together a couple of line drives into the gaps to get anything going, which is tough against top-flight pitching.

Anything out of the ordinary on the base paths is still a script for a disaster flick. They also seem hesitant to try, and with good reason.

But it can be done. They came out of the loser’s bracket to win the SEC tournament in a ballpark every bit as spacious as this one, even cobbling together the winning run out of thin air.

Besides, there’s got to be a first time for everything.

OK, not very likely. But if they get the first two wins, I like their chances to at least play for the championship.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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