Two pivotal errors contributed in no small way to LSU's first-round loss to UCLA last night in the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. But you can't pin the whole loss on those errors.
A handful of warning-track outs (or in the vicinity) provided a reminder of how the only way to play gorilla ball in Omaha now is to go down the road to the zoo near where Rosenblatt Stadium once hosted the CWS -- or perhaps watch videos of past LSU national championships there. But you can't pin this defeat entirely on fly-ball outs.
It might have been nice to bunt the runner over in the ninth inning with nobody out, but unless you called it before the at-bat that ended with a ground-ball double play, nobody wants to hear your hindsight. And you can't pin the loss squarely on that decision.
Let me say this up front: There are always many reasons for a loss. I say that because I'm perhaps about to put too fine a point on one aspect of last night's defeat.
A loss occurs with every at-bat, every pitch, every decision, every bounce. And really, everything that comes before the ninth inning contributes. Sometimes you have to go back to the early innings to find some important reasons one team wins and one team loses. Sometimes you have to go back to the first inning, not just the last.
Sometimes you have to go all the way back to another season to get the full picture.
LSU found out what a disadvantage it can be to bring a team with no College World Series experience on its roster. That wasn't the case in 2009, when the Tigers won the program's sixth national championship. I talked about it before the 2009 CWS, as you can see here.
The 2008 LSU team had no prior CWS experience and went home after playing three games. A year later, it helped tremendously to have the most players in uniform with actual CWS game experience for the 2009 CWS.
Orel Hershiser said it last night after the game: Omaha experience matters in Omaha.
LSU lost last night's game against UCLA a tiny little bit when it lost to UC Irvine and UCLA in the 2010 regional in Los Angeles. LSU lost last night's game a little bit when it didn't make it to the postseason in 2011. LSU lost last night's game a little bit more when it lost to Stony Brook in the super regional in Baton Rouge in 2012.
The Tigers lost last night's game all throughout last night's game, despite a stellar pitching performance, and you have to wonder if it would have been a different game if it hadn't been the first College World Series game for every LSU player in uniform.
On the flip side, it's true Indiana won in its College World Series debut, defeating Louisville without the benefit of a single player with Omaha experience. But Louisville hadn't been to the CWS since 2007, so the experience factor was a level playing field.
North Carolina State, making its first CWS appearance since 1968, won easily against North Carolina, which has been to the CWS in six of the past eight seasons. How did that happen? A shutdown pitcher, that's how. That's always been baseball's great equalizer.
Mississippi State advanced by defeating Oregon State in a matchup of programs that were in Omaha for the first time since 2007, another game in which Omaha experience was a level playing field for the guys in uniform with bats and gloves and adrenaline and all that good stuff.
Few things are hard and fast truths that can predict outcomes, which is why there are countless reasons one team scored two runs last night and the other scored one. But all things being equal, I'd like my chances better if I had a team with big-game experience playing in a series of big games leading up to a national championship.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri has taken three teams to Omaha that had no College World Series experience. The 2002 Notre Dame team went 1-2. The 2008 LSU team went 1-2.
This LSU team has to win Tuesday in an elimination game against North Carolina to even have a chance to go 1-2.
I have to believe Mainieri would have liked his chances better with some CWS seasoning in the lineup last night. At least now the Tigers have some -- for what is now their most important game of the season.