Sunday, November 11, 2018

Wading in Deep Water

Will Wade is entering his second season as the head coach of LSU’s Men’s Basketball team. In his first year at the helm, Wade led the Tigers to an 18-15 (8-10 SEC) record and a second round finish in the NIT Tournament. This had been LSU’s first winning season since 2015-16, and their first NIT Tournament appearance since 2013-14.

Wade had a very encouraging track record before taking the LSU job. He posted a 51-20 (28-8 A-10) record as the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University while taking the Rams to two straight NCAA Tournaments and winning an Atlantic-10 Regular Season Conference Championship in 2015-16.

Prior to his VCU stint, Wade began his head coaching career at the University of Chattanooga. In his two seasons as the Mocs’ headman, Wade had an overall record of 40-25 (27-7 SoCon), placed second in the regular season standings in both years, guided the program to its only Postseason Tournament, and won Coach of the Year honors for the 2013-14 season.

As the 2018-19 season approaches, the expectations have risen for Wade and the LSU basketball program. He has the Tigers ranked No. 23 in the Preseason AP Top 25 Poll and has an incoming recruiting class ranked No. 3 in the nation and No. 2 in the SEC behind Kentucky. Despite this newfound optimism and excitement surrounding LSU basketball, there is still a dark cloud that lingers not too far away from the program.

That dark cloud manifested itself as a 2017 FBI investigation regarding corruption, fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and bribery in NCAA Division-1 Men’s Basketball. The main parties involved included apparel company Adidas and over 20 Division-1 college basketball programs. In sum, this entire scandal was a pay-for-play scheme.

The leading men were Christian Dawkins (an aspiring sports agent), James Gatto (an Adidas employee), and Merl Code (a former Adidas consultant). They would essentially bribe high school basketball prospects to attend Adidas-sponsored universities and then pay the coaches (mostly the assistants) to make sure that these same players then signed with Adidas and certain sports agencies upon entering the pro level. The coaches who were indicted would also receive payments to sway certain recruits to come to their schools.

LSU was not in the first group of schools initially implicated, but in a second sweep it was revealed that guard Tim Quarterman had supposedly received $16,000 during his three-year career for the Purple and Gold. This money came from ASM Sports, a sports agency who Christian Dawkins was affiliated with until his termination in 2017.

By itself, this allegation would be concerning. However, it does not pertain to Will Wade because Quarterman was no longer with the team when he began his coaching tenure. Instead, Wade has something a tad more difficult to explain. According to phone records, Wade exchanged three phone calls with Christian Dawkins between June 19th and June 30th in 2017 that were recorded with a wiretap.

One conversation in particular related to improper benefits concerning the recruiting of 7-foot-tall center Balsa Koprivica from Montverde, Florida. When Dawkins asked if Wade wanted Koprivica, the LSU coach was quoted in the transcript as saying, “OK, but there is other [expletive] involved in it…. Wait, I’ve got to shut the door … I can get you what you need but it’s got to work.”

During the October 16th trial of Dawkins, Gatto, and Code in federal district court, Adidas defense attorney Casey Donnelly tried to admit this taped conversation into evidence. Judge Lewis A. Kaplan denied the entry of the evidence, but Donnelly did get to read the transcript aloud. When asked about the use of these statements at SEC media days on October 17th, Wade denied having any interaction with Dawkins and also pointed to the fact that the evidence was not let in.

He also refused to answer any “yes” or “no” questions regarding if the conversation did in fact take place. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva has come out in support of Wade and stated that the university would be ready to comply with the NCAA to “ensure compliance in all athletic programs.”

This is now the second time that Wade has been mentioned in the FBI’s NCAA probe since being hired at LSU. The NCAA has been exploring his recruiting methods all the way back to his time at VCU, but has found nearly nothing out of the ordinary in their prolonged search. As far as the FBI is concerned, they are not even looking into Wade despite the hazy LSU connections to the investigation.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Nike's September to Remember

Nike is arguably one of the most successful athletic apparel/equipment companies in history. Founded by Oregon alumnus Phil Knight in 1964, Nike is currently valued at $29.6 billion and last year raked in $34.35 billion in profits. In addition, they sponsor a countless number of professional athletes ranging from LeBron James to Serena Williams as well as over 70 NCAA Division 1 schools. LSU is among one of the ten SEC universities who has a contract with Nike.

On September 5th, Nike made the decision to feature former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the 30th anniversary of their “Just Do It” advertising campaign. Kaepernick, most known for his kneeling protests during the national anthem, had not taken an NFL snap since 2016.

The commercial launched the night of the NFL Kickoff Game on September 6th and included the likes of Usain Bolt, LeBron James, Serena Williams, and Seattle Seahawks rookie Shaquem Griffin. Kaepernick narrated the entire one-minute advertisement but was actually shown in it for roughly about 10 seconds.

Approximately 30 seconds into the TV spot, Kaepernick uttered the notable line, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” This quote, on its face and as an impartial phrase, would tend to not rile up any reasonable person. However, because Kaepernick was the one saying it, various people throughout nation gave this statement more weight in either a positive or negative context.

As Nike probably expected, this move would send shockwaves throughout the entire country as the company’s stock price dropped about 2.2%. There were about three general types of responses that most Americans exhibited when the news broke of the Kaepernick advertisement campaign.

First, there was the upset crowd. Some of the more extreme people in this group tended to burn any and all Nike apparel they owned, cut off the Nike logo from any apparel that was not ablaze, and swore they would never buy anything the company manufactured ever again.

These people believed that Kaepernick’s kneeling before a football game had no resemblance whatsoever to the actions of the men and women in the military, fire department, and police force who are willing to sacrifices their lives every day.

Next, there was the supportive crowd. The people in this group praised Nike’s decision and saw it as a great promotion for social activism given the clout that the company has in both Corporate America and around the world. They took no issue with Kaepernick’s kneeling as the First Amendment of the United States Constitution gave him the right to peacefully protest.

Finally, there was the neutral crowd. The people in this group were either going to buy or not buy Nike products because that was their own prerogative. At the end of the day, Nike deciding to use Kaepernick in a commercial did not matter to them. It is possible and in fact very plausible that they just preferred other brands like Adidas, Under Armour, Reebok, and many others instead of Nike.

Though these reactions were reported more at the national level, Louisiana was not immune from the controversy. On September 5th, Mayor Ben Zahn of Kenner, Louisiana, sent out a memo that forbade booster clubs in the area from using or purchasing any Nike products. This ordinance lasted about a week before a protest rally featuring New Orleans Saints players Cameron Jordan and Terron Armstead prompted Zahn to talk to a lawyer and overturn the ban.

For the protesters, they were more concerned with the children of Kenner being targeted for wearing Nike apparel along with the economic impact the ban could potentially have on New Orleans. Cameron Jordan actually spoke at the rally and said the following, “Everything that Nike has done in its slogan is pushing forward.

So when it comes to something like this and it’s affecting the community that we’re in right now... how is this pushing forward?” Though he did repeal the Nike prohibition, Zahn was unapologetic. He reiterated that he had his focus “on the city of Kenner and the many great projects we have in store for our city.”

A month since the Kaepernick ad, tensions have appeared to calm down and Nike’s stock has moved back up to nearly $85 a share. The company still remains No. 18 on Forbe’s “Most Valuable Brands” list and is the only member of the apparel industry to hold one of the 100 spots.

Keep in mind also that on a global level, most foreign nations do not care about the actions of an American football player when it comes to companies they are deciding to invest in or buy from. This is evidenced by the increase of sales in China by 16%, in Europe by 13%, and in Latin America by 8%. Domestically, Nike’s stock as a whole has been up 50% this year and has surged to 134% since 2013.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Kristian Fulton: The Fighting Tiger

The LSU football program has long referred to it itself as “DBU” (Defensive Back University) and contains a hallowed lineage of Tiger cornerbacks and safeties who have paved their way into the highest level of professional football in the National Football League. Kristian Fulton, hailing from Metairie, Louisiana, was hoping to continue the trend as the latest talented cornerback to emerge from LSU.

After playing in just three games as a true freshman, the former five-star cornerback was poised for a bigger role in the secondary with the loss of both safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Tre’Davious White to the 2017 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, Fulton’s collegiate career would suffer a major setback when it came time for him to submit to an NCAA Performance Enhancing Drug test on February 2, 2017.

In the early hours of that Friday morning, Fulton was caught using the urine of somebody else as he thought the test was one for street drugs (i.e. heroin, marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids, etc.) instead of PED’s. The test administer noticed that Fulton had been dumping out a portion of the small bottle into the beaker which he was supposed to fill with his own urine. When Fulton was confronted, he emptied the beaker’s contents into a urinal and proceeded to use his own urine sample to fill it.

Six days later, the NCAA hit Fulton with a violation of Section 3.4 of the NCAA Drug-Testing Program Protocol. In short, the provision stated that a person who tampered with a NCAA drug-test sample would be suspended for two seasons. Fulton appealed his suspension, but on March 8, 2017, the NCAA appeals committee rejected his request.

For the entire 2017 season, Kristian Fulton could do nothing but watch as the Tigers posted a 9-4 (6-2 SEC) record without him. Though LSU put up quality defensive numbers in 2017, Fulton’s suspension was a blow to their secondary as he was the No. 22 overall recruit in the country and the No. 1 prospect in the state of Louisiana when he committed to the Bayou Bengals. To make a terrible situation even worse, the Tigers had lost out on an entire season to develop Fulton into the team’s next potential star cornerback.

Despite having to miss what would have been his sophomore season, Fulton did not give up his legal battle. He reached out to Alabama-based sports attorney Don Jackson, who played college baseball at Alabama State University before obtaining his law degree from the University of Virginia. Jackson took up Fulton’s case in the summer of 2017 and began to look more closely into the circumstances surrounding the drug test and suspension. In his yearlong investigation, Jackson discovered that the appropriate drug-testing protocol had not been adhered to during Fulton’s screening.

On May 31, 2018, a New York forensics panel concurred with Jackson and Fulton that the correct drug-testing procedures had not been complied with. This brought up chain of custody issues regarding how the urine specimen was handled and transferred. As Section 7.5 of the NCAA Drug-Testing Program Protocol stated: “If chain of custody is broken at any point in the process, the NCAA may collect another specimen.” With this new evidence, Jackson filed a motion for reconsideration on July 27, 2018, and the NCAA reopened Fulton’s case.

A week later, LSU sent a letter to the NCAA reconsideration committee arguing for Fulton’s eligibility, but the NCAA came back with yet another denial six days later. However, the university would not quit in its fight for Fulton’s collegiate career as a Tiger. On August 17, 2018, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva wrote to the NCAA interpretation panel with a four-page letter stating that Fulton had been erroneously punished. Alleva claimed that instead of tampering, Fulton should have been charged with “urine substitution”.

This distinction is huge as urine substitution carried only a one-year ban with it as opposed to the two-year sentence associated with tampering. Upon reviewing Alleva’s argument, the NCAA interpretation panel agreed with him and ruled that Fulton was to be immediately reinstated. After a 19-month battle, Fulton was now able to once again dawn the purple and gold.

This was a huge legal victory for both Fulton and the LSU team as a whole. After finishing the 2017 campaign 9th in Team Passing Efficiency Defense (110.89), 12th in Total Defense (316 Yards Per Game), 21st in Passing Yards Allowed (187.6), and 54th in Passes Intercepted (12), LSU’s defense will look to improve upon these numbers with Fulton’s return. 

On September 2, 2018, the underdog No. 25 LSU Tigers kicked off their season against the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes in the 2018 Advocare Classic in Arlington, Texas. More importantly, Kristian Fulton took the field for the first time since December 31, 2016. He registered three total tackles (two of them were solo) with two passes defended as the Tigers stunned the Hurricanes in a 33-17 upset.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

2018 College World Series: No. 1 Florida Knocks Out No. 13 Texas in First Elimination Game

The No. 1 Florida Gators (48-20) have kept their season alive with a 6-1 victory over the No. 13 Texas Longhorns (42-23) in their first elimination game of the College World Series.

Junior right-hander Jackson Kowar (10-5, 3.04 ERA) took the mound for Florida and spun an absolute gem for his 10th win of the season. The 33rd overall draft pick dominated Texas as he allowed zero runs on five hits, struck out a career-high 13 batters, and walked two Longhorns on a  season-high 121 pitches in 6.2 innings.

When it was time for Kowar to exit with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Florida was leading 5-0 with Texas runners on second and third. Cue freshman left-hander Jordan Butler, who needed just four pitches to notch the inning-ending strikeout.

After back-to-back walks from Butler in the eighth inning, it was Michael Byrne time. The junior right-hander would give up a run, but would limit Texas's damage to one as Florida carried a 6-1 lead into the ninth. The run of course would be charged to Butler.

In the game's final frame, Byrne would use a line out and a strikeout to obtain the first two outs before giving up back-to-back singles. There would be no Texas rally, however, as he induced a fly out from junior clean-up man Kody Clemens to end the game and Texas's season.

Florida's offense look much more rejuvenated in this game as the Gators banged out 10 hits and scored a run in the first inning, four in the sixth inning, and tacked on one more in the eighth inning. Four Gators had multiple hits in this contest.

Out of the two-hole, junior designated hitter Nelson Maldonaldo recorded his second consecutive multi-hit game in Omaha as he went 2-5 with an RBI single in the seventh inning and a run scored. Right behind Nelly in the three-hole, junior third baseman Jonathan India went 2-5 as well.

The No. 5 overall pick in the draft kicked off the scoring with an RBI single in the first inning. Then in the sixth inning he hit a three-run home run out to left field to make it 5-0. India finished the day with four RBI's and a run scored.

Down in the six-hole, sophomore left fielder Austin Langworthy went 2-3 with a walk. Rounding out the quartet after Langworthy in the seven-hole, junior second baseman Blake Reese went 2-4 with a double, a run scored, and a stolen base.

The remaining Gators with hits were both seniors. First baseman JJ Schwarz went 1-5 while centerfielder Nick Horvath went 1-3 with a walk and a solo shot in the eighth inning to extend the lead to 6-0. Though he went hitless, junior shortstop Deacon Liput is worth mentioning because he worked two walks and scored twice.

Florida cleaned it up defensively as they had their first errorless game since Game 2 of Super Regionals. Texas's lone miscue came on the first pitch of the third inning as sophomore third baseman Ryan Reynolds could not cleanly field a ball off the bat of Jonathan India. This would not result in any Gator runs though.

Final Takeaway
The Florida Gators (48-20) looked like the No. 1 team in the country again as they will live to fight another day. Before previewing their next matchup, here are my final tidbits on their elimination game victory over Texas:

  • For the first time since 1991 and third overall time in school history, Florida has won their first elimination game immediately following an opening round loss in the College World Series.
  • Florida is now 9-10 all-time in College World Series elimination games.
  • Florida is now 20-23 all-time in the College World Series.
  • Florida is now 2-2 all-time against Texas.
  • This was India's 26th, Nelly's 22nd, Reese's 17th, and Langworthy's 15th multi-hit games of the season.
  • India's home run was his team-leading 21st of the season while Nick Horvath upped his total to seven.
  • Blake Reese's second inning steal of second base gave him the lead in this stat category as he now has 13 on the year. His double also tied him for the team lead and is his 17th of his junior campaign.
  • This was Jackson Kowar's second game of the year with double-digit strikeouts and sixth outing where he went over 100 pitches. That last factoid probably agitates the Kansas City Royals (who drafted him) just a bit.
  • Texas's leading hitters were junior catcher DJ Petrinksy (1-4 with an RBI), senior first baseman Jake McKenzie (2-4 with a stolen base), and junior left fielder Masen Hibbeler (2-4 with a double)

The Gators still have an uphill battle as they need three more wins to reach the College World Series Finals. It may feel improbable, but if Florida can duplicate this performance a few times it is definitely possible.

The Orange and Blue will await the loser of the No. 5 Arkansas/No. 9 Texas Tech game on Wednesday, June 20th. Either opponent will be a rematch for Florida and this game will be set for 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 21st, barring any weather delays. It can be seen on ESPNU.

Freshman right-hander Jack Leftwich (4-5, 4.32 ERA) will probably take the bump for Florida, but nothing has been set in stone at this moment.

As for the No. 13 Texas Longhorns, they finish the season 42-23 and have to feel very optimistic about the future after reaching their first College World Series since 2014. Congrats on a great season for the Longhorns!

*All stats accredited to



Monday, June 18, 2018

2018 College World Series: No. 9 Texas Tech Defeats No. 1 Florida in Opening Round

The No. 1 Florida Gators (47-20) are in big trouble after a 6-3 loss to the No. 9 Texas Tech Red Raiders (45-18) in the opening round of the 2018 College World Series.

Making what was potentially his final collegiate start, junior ace Brady Singer (12-2, 2.33 ERA) was cruising until the fifth and sixth innings. In both frames, the 17th overall draft pick allowed two runs as Tech jumped out to a 5-1 lead over the Gators.

Singer would finish with a stat line of five runs allowed (two earned!) on nine hits with five strikeouts as he was handed his second loss of the season. He committed a balk in the top of the fourth inning which moved Tech sophomore Josh Jung over to second base. Jung would eventually come in to score on a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1-1.

Reaching 99 pitches after notching his final collegiate strikeout, Brady Singer was pulled with Florida trailing 5-1 in the seventh inning. In his place came freshman left-hander Jordan Butler, who recorded the final two outs of the inning with ease.

In the eighth inning, a single and double put Tech runners in scoring position with no outs. Florida had just trimmed the lead to 5-3 and could not afford to let the margin get any wider. Butler settled in and registered two huge strikeouts before being lifted for junior closer Michael Byrne.

Very accustomed to high leverage situations, Byrne did his job as he fired in three straight strikes for the punch-out. In the ninth, Byrne obtained another strikeout. However, freshman catcher Brady Smith's mishandling of the ball allowed Tech junior Cody Farhat to reach.

A sac bunt would move Farhat to second, and he would come into score on a single into right field for a huge insurance run. Byrne would get another strikeout and a batter's interference on a stolen base attempt put an end to the inning. Though Tech had scored another run to push the lead to 6-3, Byrne had once again been efficient out of the bullpen.

Florida's offense was dreadful tonight. They mustered a lousy five hits together while scoring once in the third inning and twice in the seventh. That first run did not even come from an RBI, as a Tech balk from junior Ryan Shetter allowed Deacon Liput to score from third.

Junior designated hitter Nelson Maldonaldo had nearly half of the team's hits as he went 2-5 with a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning. Nelly was not the only one with an extra-base hit though. In the first inning, junior third baseman Jonathan India hit a two-out triple into right field but of course was stranded at third base. India had two walks in the contest as well.

The other TWO Gators with hits were sophomore right fielder Wil Dalton (1-4) and freshman catcher Brady Smith (1-2 with a run scored after coming in to pinch-hit in the seventh).

Both squad's made one error. Florida's miscue came from junior shortstop Deacon Liput when his throw to first base went up the line with two outs in the fifth. This would lead to two Tech runs and a 3-1 deficit for Florida.

Tech's error also came from the shortstop position as senior Michael Davis misplayed a ball off the bat of Wil Dalton with no outs in the second inning. Though Florida would eventually put runners on second and third with two outs, Tech would hold the Gators scoreless in the bottom of the second.

Final Takeaway 
Florida's chances of repeating are abysmally low after a very lackluster performance tonight. Before previewing their elimination game in a couple of days, here are my final tidbits on the opening round loss:

  • Florida is now 6-6 all-time in the opening round of the College World Series.
  • Florida is now 0-2 all-time against Texas Tech. Both losses are in Omaha.
  • Florida is now 19-23 all-time in the College World Series.
  • This was Nelly's 21st multi-hit game and ninth home run of the season.
  • Jonathan India's triple was his fourth of the year and he continues to lead the team with that mark.
  • Deacon Liput nabbed his 10th stolen base of the season in the second inning and is now within two of the team lead.
  • The entire Texas Tech outfield lit up Florida's pitching tonight. Freshman right fielder Gabe Holt went 2-5 with three RBI's, center fielder Cody Farhat went 2-4 with a double and two runs scored, and sophomore left fielder Grant Little went a perfect 3-3 with an RBI and a run scored.
  • In addition to the outfield, both senior designated hitter Zach Rheams (1-4 with a double) and Michael Davis (1-4) drove in a run for the Red Raiders as well.
  • Texas Tech's bullpen pieced together a great relief performance. Entering with no outs in the third inning and a runner on first, Ryan Shetter allowed one earned run on three hits with seven strikeouts and one walk in 4.1 innings pitched. The right-hander would improve his record to a flawless 6-0.
  • For the remaining 2.2 innings, junior right-hander Ty Harpenau gave up one earned run on one hit with three strikeouts and two walks.
  • Though exciting to many Gator fans, the decision to play JJ Schwarz did not pan out. The senior captain went 0-4 with two strikeouts and had one of his more shakier defensive games at first base.

I hate to be a pessimist, but Florida will need an absolute miracle to get back to the College World Series Finals. Even if they beat Texas, they will either have to rematch with Tech again or face a red-hot Arkansas team that looks unstoppable. 

The Gators simply do not have the pitching depth to muster out four wins and the offense has been on cruise control going all the way back to May. I hope Florida can put something together, but I honestly do not see that happening.

The Orange and Blue will be back in action as they take on the No. 13 Texas Longhorns (42-22) in an elimination game on Tuesday, June 19th.  First pitch will be at 2 p.m. ET and this matchup can be seen on ESPN. Junior right-hander Jackson Kowar (9-5, 3.24 ERA) will most likely get the start for the Gators. This will be just the fourth meeting between these two baseball goliaths (all in Omaha and which Florida sports a 1-2 record).

As for the No. 9 Texas Tech Red Raiders (45-18), they will be taking on the No. 5 Arkansas Razorbacks (45-19) in the second round on June 19th. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on ESPN.



Saturday, June 16, 2018

Appreciation Article: LSU Baseball's Dominance in the 1990's

In the 1990's, the college baseball world saw one of the greatest dynasties emerge out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Led by legendary head coach Skip Bertman, the Tigers of Louisiana State University captured four national championships in a seven-year span.

As an homage to their dominance in Omaha, join me now as I take you through LSU's title runs in 1991, 1993, 1996, and 1997.

Bringing a Baseball Title to the Bayou (1991)
Coming off two straight trips to the College World Series, Skip Bertman and his LSU team were looking to finally break through in the 1991 season and actually make it to the national championship game.

Getting to the Postseason
The Tigers climbed to No. 1 in the polls and posted a record of 44-16 (19-7 SEC) to claim their eighth SEC Regular Season championship. They played host to the 1991 SEC Tournament at Alex Box Stadium as the No. 1 seed, but they ran into trouble against the rival and No. 2 seeded Florida Gators.

Despite beating Florida four times in the regular season, the Tigers struggled against the Orange and Blue in the SEC Tournament as they lost to them twice. The latter of the two losses came in the SEC Championship and put a small damper on what had been a successful year of SEC play.

South Regional in Baton Rouge
In the South Regional at the Box, LSU did not run into too much trouble with the teams in their bracket. They opened up the 1991 NCAA Tournament with a crushing 13-2 victory over Northwestern State. Next was Oklahoma, who would give them a run for the money but would fail to pull the upset as the Tigers downed the Sooners 4-3 in the quarterfinals.

In the semifinals, LSU hooked up with future SEC opponent Texas A&M and soundly beat the Aggies 8-1 to advance to the regional finals for the third straight season. With Omaha on the line, the Tigers would run into the Ragin' Cajuns of SW Louisiana (aka UL-Lafayette). LSU's in-state opponent would not deter them, as they beat the Ragin' Cajuns 8-5 to clinch a third consecutive College World Series appearance!

College World Series
In Omaha (dubbed Baton Rouge North by the Tiger fanbase), LSU had their shot at revenge as their first opponent was Florida. Forgetting all about that loss in the SEC championship game, the Tigers thumped the Gators 8-1 to move on to the second round.

Next up was Fresno State. Though Fresno State would get their moment in 2008, they would have to remain in the shadows as LSU routed them 15-3 to cruise into the semifinals. Out of the loser's bracket and ready for another round came the Gators. Again, the Bayou Bengals whipped their SEC rival as they smoked Florida 19-8 to make it to their first College World Series National Championship Game in school history!

Facing the Tigers would be the Wichita State Shockers, who had won it all just two years ago in 1989. This would not rattle LSU, however, as they beat the Shockers 6-3 to claim their first-ever baseball national championship in school history! They also finished the postseason a perfect 8-0!

True pioneers on the diamond. The '91 squad celebrates their title.

Campus Legends
Here is the roster that ended LSU's title drought on the diamond:

Of course, what is a team without its coaching staff? Here are the coaches who helped the Tigers finally cap off a successful postseason run:

  • Head Coach
    • Skip Bertman - 8th season at LSU

Back on Top (1993)
After losing to eventual runner-up Cal State Fullerton in the 1992 postseason, LSU was out for blood in the 1993 season.

Getting to the Postseason
The Tigers were again the No. 1 team in America and won their fourth consecutive SEC Championship as they went 41-14-1 (18-8 SEC) in the regular season. In the first year of the separate SEC East/West Tournaments, the Tigers were tourney champions as they battled out of the loser's bracket to defeat Mississippi State in the final. Doubling down on both SEC titles guaranteed that LSU would once again be hosting in the NCAA Tournament.

South Regional in Baton Rouge
The Tigers kicked off their quest for a second title in three years with a 7-2 victory over Western Carolina. In the quarterfinals, however, trouble struck as Kent State upset the Tigers in a 15-12 slugfest to send them to the loser's bracket.

Needing to dig deep, LSU took care of Baylor 13-6 in their elimination game to set up a date with 2-0 South Alabama. In their first meeting, the Tigers clobbered the Jaguars 11-4 to set up a winner-take-all game. Again with Omaha at stake, LSU did not fold to the pressure and defeated South Alabama 9-4 to return to Baton Rouge North.

College World Series
In the College World Series, the Tigers were rolling on all cylinders as they beat Long Beach State 7-1 in first round and then out-slugged Texas A&M 13-8 in second round. In the rematch with Long Beach State, the Tigers dropped a tight one 10-8 before edging out a 6-5 win to head back to the National Championship.

Waiting for them yet again in the final game of the year was the Wichita State Shockers. Like before, the result was a Tiger victory as an 8-0 shutout gave LSU their second national championship in school history! They finished 8-2 in the tournament and had won four elimination games on route to another title!

Talks of dynasty may have been looming as LSU hoisted their second title in three years.

Campus Legends

Featuring some of the guys from the first championship team, here is the roster of the two-time champion LSU Tigers:
  • Pitchers
    • Matt Chamberlain (Junior) (Drafted 318th overall in the 11th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates)
    • Rick Greene (Sophomore)
    • Will Hunt (Senior) (Drafted 865th overall in the 31st round by the Detroit Tigers)
    • Brett Laxton (Freshman) (CWS All-Tournament Team)
    • Antonio Leonardi-Cattolica (Freshman)
    • Matt Malejko (Junior)
    • Bhrett McCabe (Sophomore)
    • Jeff Naquin (Sophomore)
    • Ronnie Rantz (Junior)
    • Trey Rutledge (Junior) (Drafted 540th overall in the 19th round by the Cincinnati Reds)
    • Henri Saunders (Senior)
    • Scott Schultz (Sophomore)
    • Mike Sirotka (Senior) (CWS All-Tournament Team) (Drafted 425th overall in the 15th round by the Chicago White Sox)
    • Sean Teague (Sophomore)
    • Brian Winders (Freshman)
  • Outfield
    • Kevin Ainsworth (Freshman)
    • Harry Berrios (Junior) (Drafted 231st overall in the eighth round by the Baltimore Orioles)
    • Jim Greely (Senior) (CWS All-Tournament Team)
    • Ryan Huffman (Freshman)
    • Armando Rios (Senior) (CWS All-Tournament Team)
    • Mark Stocco (Junior)

Minus a couple assistant coaching changes, Skip Bertman again had another solid coaching staff assembled as they helped guide this team to a second title:

  • Head Coach
    • Skip Bertman - 10th season at LSU
  • Assistant Coaches
    • Beetle Bailey 6th season at LSU
    • Smoke Laval - 10th season at LSU
    • Mike Bianco - 1st season at LSU
    • Rick Smith - 1st season at LSU
    • Dan Canevari - 3rd season at LSU

Walking Off into a Dynasty (1996)
A College World Series exit at the hands of Fullerton in 1994 and a regional loss to Rice in 1995 would pave the way for arguably LSU's most memorable of championship runs.

Getting to the Postseason
Sharing their 11th SEC Conference Championship due to a three-way tie with Florida and Alabama, the Tigers went 43-13 (20-10 SEC) in the regular season and continued to stay at No. 1 in the polls. In the SEC Tournament, LSU won their opening game over Tennessee before consecutive losses to Florida and Kentucky knocked them out of the tournament. Holding a share of the regular season title, however, would again guarantee that the Tigers would host a regional.

South II Regional in Baton Rouge
LSU began their postseason with an 8-5 win over Austin Peay and a narrow 7-6 victory over UNLV. In their final two games of the regional, the Tiger offense was on another level of production. They shellacked New Orleans 17-4 in the semifinals and, despite giving up 13 runs, beat the ever-loving daylights out of Georgia Tech by a score of 29-13.

College World Series
What good would an LSU title run be without another meeting with Wichita State in Omaha? Taking on the Shockers at the beginning of the College World Series this time, the Tigers edged out a 9-8 victory. Next would be their old rival Florida, who had beaten LSU in all four meetings this season. However, three of those wins came in Gainesville.

In Baton Rouge North, the tables were turned as the Tigers finally broke through and beat the Gators 9-4. In the semifinals, LSU got a rematch with Florida and again bested their rival by a score of 2-1 to reach their third national championship game in six years.

Their opponent would be another Florida-based school in the Miami Hurricanes. With two titles of their own in the early-to-mid 80's, the 'Canes were no pushover opponent. In what became known as one of the greatest games in college baseball history, LSU found themselves trailing 8-7 entering the bottom of the ninth inning.

With two outs and the tying run on third base, junior Warren Morris was due up to bat in the nine-hole. The left-hander wasted no time and jumped on a first-pitch breaking ball. The ball jumped off the bat of Morris and took off towards right field. It kept going and going and going and... it was gone!!! 

LSU had just won their third national championship in program history on a miraculous walk-off home run from their nine-hole hitter! Rosenblatt Stadium erupted as Morris ran around the bases and his exuberant teammates mobbed him when he touched home. It was his first home run of the season and had just barely cleared the wall to give the Tigers the improbable come-from-behind victory.

The LSU baseball dynasty was alive and well and for the second time the Tigers had gone a perfect 8-0 in the NCAA Tournament.

Morris celebrates the biggest home run of his baseball career.

Campus Legends
With a few of the players from the '93 team sprinkled in, here are the Tigers who made the school's third national championship dream a reality:
  • Catchers
    • Brad Cresse (Freshman)
    • Conan Horton (Junior)
    • Tim Lanier (Senior) (CWS All-Tournament Team) (Drafted 290th overall in the 10th round by the San Diego Padres)
    • Kevin Ward (Senior)

Again with different assistants at his side, Skip Bertman and his staff did what they needed to orchestrate another championship:

  • Head Coach
    • Skip Bertman - 13th season at LSU
  • Assistant Coaches
    • Mike Bianco - 4th season at LSU
    • Dan Canevari - 6th season at LSU
    • Jim Schwanke - 1st season at LSU
    • Daniel Tomlin - 1st season at LSU

Back-To-Back (1997)
Fresh off a historic championship, LSU had eyes on a repeat with many players from the '96 team returning.

Getting to the Postseason
The Tigers were the top team in the land and secured back-to-back SEC Championships with a 45-11 (22-7) mark in the regular season. As had been the case in two of their three title runs, the top-seeded Tigers lost the SEC Tournament as they fell to the No. 2 seeded Alabama Crimson Tide in the final. This had been the fifth meeting between these two schools during the year, and the Tide held a 3-2 advantage.

Regardless of another SEC Tournament loss, LSU was again a host for regional action.

South I Regional in Baton Rouge
LSU got off to a hot start on their title defense as they smacked both UNC Greensboro and Oklahoma 14-0 and 14-3, respectively. Like the 1993 squad, the Tigers hit a road block as South Alabama handed them an 11-5 defeat in the semifinals.

Needing to show the resiliency that won them the title in the previous season, the Tigers outlasted Long Beach State 14-7 in an 11-inning elimination game. The Tigers put up seven runs in the top of the 11th to keep their season alive.

In their rematch with South Alabama in the regional finals, neither game was close as the Tigers smoked the Jaguars 14-4 and 15-4 in both contests.

College World Series
In their return to Omaha, LSU inched past Rice with a 5-4 win in the first round. Next was Stanford, who LSU easily dispatched with a 10-5 victory. When the Cardinal came back around after getting out of the loser's bracket, the Tigers were again victorious as they won 13-9 to play in their second straight national championship game.

Fittingly, the title game would be a rematch of the SEC Championship as arch rival Alabama reached their second ever national championship. In their sixth contest of the season, LSU won the game that mattered as they smacked the Tide by a score of 13-6 to both repeat and claim their fourth national championship in seven years! LSU also set a new school mark for postseason wins as they went 9-1 in the NCAA Tournament.

Twice is nice as the Tigers celebrate their repeat.

Campus Legends
For many on the '97 squad, this would be their second national championship. Here is the final LSU roster that helped cement one incredible dynasty:
  • Pitchers
    • Kurt Ainsworth (Freshman)
    • Jason Albritton (Sophomore)
    • Eric Berthelot (Senior)
    • Matt Colvin (Freshman)
    • Patrick Coogan (Junior) (Drafted 104th overall in the third round by the St. Louis Cardinals)
    • Chris Demouy (Junior)
    • Jake Esteves (Junior)
    • Dan Guillory (Sophomore)
    • Jeff Harris (Junior)
    • Cody Hartshorn (Freshman)
    • David Hughes (Freshman)
    • Sonny Knoll (Freshman)
    • Antonio Leonardi-Cattolica (Senior)
    • Joey Painich (Senior)
    • Kevin Shipp (Senior) (Drafted 836th overall in the 33rd round by the Philadelphia Phillies)
    • Doug Thompson (Junior)
    • Jeremy Tyson (Senior)
  • Infield
    • Blair Barbier (Freshman)
    • John Blancher (Freshman)
    • Christian Bourgeois (Freshman)
    • Casey Cuntz (Junior) (Drafted 323rd overall in the 10th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks)
    • Mike Daley (Freshman)
    • Brian Daugherty (Senior)
    • Eddy Furniss (Junior) (CWS All-Tournament Team)
    • Danny Higgins (Junior)
    • Brandon Larson (Junior) (Most Outstanding Player/CWS All-Tournament Team) (Drafted 14th overall in the first round by the Cincinnati Reds)
    • Jeff Lipari (Freshman)
    • Trey McClure (Sophomore)
    • Keith Polozola (Senior)
    • Johnnie Thibodeaux (Freshman)
    • Drew Topham (Freshman)
  • Outfield
    • Bryon Bennett (Sophomore)
    • Tom Bernhardt (Senior) (CWS All-Tournament Team) (Drafted 1,348th overall in the 46th round by the Chicago Cubs)
    • Wes Davis (Junior)
    • Cedrick Harris (Junior)
    • Mike Koerner (Junior) (CWS All-Tournament Team) (Drafted 335th overall in the 11th round by the St. Louis Cardinals)
    • Antoine Simon (Freshman)
    • Jeremy Witten (Freshman)

Keeping the exact same staff as last year, it is no wonder that Skip Bertman and company were able to repeat:

  • Head Coach
    • Skip Bertman - 14th season at LSU
  • Assistant Coaches
    • Mike Bianco - 5th season at LSU
    • Dan Canevari - 7th season at LSU
    • Jim Schwanke - 2nd season at LSU
    • Daniel Tomlin - 2nd season at LSU

Lasting Legacy
Four titles in seven College World Series trips during the 1990's is mind-blowing. What LSU accomplished help set the high standards that the program holds its players to day-in and day-out. Here are some other interesting notes about the Tigers' success in Omaha:

  • LSU is one of 13 schools to go undefeated in the College World Series. They did it thrice in the 1991, 1996, and 1997 championship runs.
  • LSU became just the fourth school (Texas, USC, Stanford) to win back-to-back titles.
  • LSU represented the SEC well as they were the second team from the conference (Georgia) to ever win a title.

The Aftermath
LSU's winning ways would not vanish after their title in 1997. The Tigers would make their final College World Series trip of the decade in 1998, where they would fall apart in the semifinals despite winning their first two games.

This would not stymie the program, however, as LSU would win a fifth title under Skip Bertman in 2000 (against Stanford) and then a sixth under Paul Mainieri in 2009 (against Texas). Their bid at a seventh came short when they lost in two games to the Florida Gators in the 2017 College World Series Finals.

Since the conclusion of the 90's, LSU has made it to Omaha eight times and remains a perennial favorite to reach Baton Rouge North nearly every year.

Final Takeaway
It is now the year 2018 and there has still yet to be any replication of what these LSU teams pulled off in the 90's. Some teams (Oregon State and South Carolina) have come close, but no one has been able to maintain the championship consistency that was present in this era of LSU baseball. Skip Bertman and his 90's teams put LSU on the map for college baseball. For Tiger fans, all they had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride.



Tuesday, June 12, 2018


The No. 1 Florida Gators (47-19) will be returning to the College World Series for a fourth consecutive season after an exhilarating 3-2 walk-off victory over the Auburn Tigers (43-23) in extra innings!

In his biggest start of the year thus far, freshman right-hander Jack Leftwich (5-2, 4.32 ERA) answered the bell. He gave the Gators five solid innings while allowing just one earned run on four hits, striking out three, and walking four.

After a walk to lead off the top of the sixth inning, Leftwich was pulled at 73 pitches with the Gators leading 2-1. He had done his job and it was now up to the bullpen to deliver these final 12 outs for Florida. In Leftwich's place came fellow freshman Tommy Mace. The right-hander would induce a pop up before a passed ball put a runner on second. He would then generate another pop up before walking a batter.

With two outs and the count at 1-2 on senior center fielder Jay Estes, Mace was able to escape the inning as Estes hit a deep fly ball to left field that was caught at the warning track. In the seventh inning, a leadoff single into right field followed by a Wil Dalton misplay on the ball put Game 2 hero Luke Jarivs on second with no outs.

A failed bunt attempt would get Mace a strikeout, but he would proceed to throw a wild pitch that allowed Jarvis to advance to third. Up now was senior first baseman Josh Anthony, one of Auburn's hottest hitters this postseason. After fouling off multiple pitches on a 1-2 count, Anthony hit a fly ball to right field.

Wil Dalton got under it and loaded up as he threw a rocket to the plate. It looked like Dalton would make amends for both his fielding and base-running gaffes in this game as the throw beat Jarvis to the plate. However, junior catcher Jonah Girand came up a bit to receive the ball as opposed to waiting at the plate for the ball to come to him.

As a result, Girand had to reach back to tag a head-first sliding Jarvis. This would be to no avail as the Auburn redshirt senior slid in safe to tie the game up. Mace would keep his poise, and got a pop up from the next batter to keep things tied.

In the eighth, it was Michael Byrne time. Putting the walk off that he allowed in Game 2 behind him, the junior closer came out firing as he struck out the side. In the ninth, the right-hander struck out his fourth straight batter before jumping off the mound to field a ball that he perfectly threw to first base for the second out. He would then record another strikeout to put the Gators in walk-off territory in the bottom of the ninth.

After a 1-2-3 ninth for Florida, Byrne ran into some trouble in the 10th. He got a fly out and a ground out on a total of three pitches before giving up a single to Jay Estes. A wild pitch allowed Estes to take second base before Byrne walked freshman right fielder Steven Williams on a full count.

Up to bat now was Auburn's three-hole hitter Brett Wright. With the count even at 2-2, Byrne induced a ground ball right to junior third baseman Jonathan India. He would step on the bag to end the threat.

Another futile Florida half inning meant Byrne was back out there again for the 11th. There would be no hiccups this time though, as Byrne retired all three Tigers in order to set up the theatrics in the bottom half of the inning.

Florida was scrounging for offense tonight as they banged out just six hits and scored a run in the first, fourth, and 11th innings. Of the six Gator base knocks, none was bigger than sophomore left fielder Austin Langworthy's. Having been robbed of two extra base hits in both the sixth and eighth innings, Langworthy stepped into the box to lead off the 11th inning against Tiger freshman reliever Cody Greenhill.

Langworthy had homered off of Greenhill to tie Game 2 in the ninth inning, so this proved to be a fairly favorable matchup for the left-hander. After falling behind 1-2, Langworthy smoked a 94 mile-per-hour fastball out to right field. The ball continued to go and go and looked like it could possibly clear the fence!

In the way though was the right fielder Steven Williams. The freshman tracked the ball and then leaped in an attempt to rob Langworthy of at least extra bases for the third time this game. However, the baseball gods smiled down upon Florida as the ball bounced off of Williams's closed mitt and over the fence for a walk-off home run to send the Gators to Omaha!

Just like that, Austin Langworthy was immortalized in Gator lore. He celebrated as he rounded the bases and the entire Gator team poured from the dugout onto the field to mob him at home. Keep in mind that Langworthy is from the city of Williston, which is a mere 30 minutes away from Gainesville. This means that essentially he is a hometown hero and may never have to purchase a meal in all of Central and North Florida ever again depending how the College World Series shapes out.

Here are some different angles of Austin's walk-off homer:


Though Langworthy's walk-off long ball overshadows them all, the five other Gators with base hits were junior shortstop Deacon Liput (1-5 with a double and a stolen base), junior designated hitter Nelson Maldonaldo (1-5 with a stolen base), third baseman Jonathan India (1-2 with a solo home run and three walks), junior second baseman Blake Reese (1-4 with a double and a stolen base), and senior center fielder Nick Horvath (1-3).

India's home run kicked off the scoring as he drove an 0-1 pitch to right field to give Florida an early 1-0 advantage in the first inning. When the game was tied, Blake Reese's speed was utilized in the fourth inning. After his one-out double, Reese advanced to third on an infield single from Nick Horvath.

With Jonah Girand up, Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan decided to roll the dice once the junior fell into a 1-2 count. Sully called a double steal and it was executed to perfection. Before the pitch, Nick Horvath took off towards second base and then immediately fell on his belly. This confused Auburn's left-handed starter Andrew Mitchell long enough to give Reese -who took off at the same time as Horvath- an ample amount of time to race towards home.

When Mitchell realized, it was too late. Reese slid in to beat the throw and Florida had literally stolen a run. Horvath would get thrown out at third to end the inning and this would cap off the rest of Florida's scoring until that unforgettable 11th inning.

Both squads made one error a piece in tonight's contest. For Florida, Wil Dalton not corralling a single in front of him allowed Auburn to put a runner on second base in the seventh inning. As mentioned earlier, the Tigers would take advantage as they scored him on a sacrifice fly.

For Auburn, second baseman Luke Jarvis bobbled a ball off the bat of Deacon Liput in the fifth inning and was unable to throw out the speedster in time. This would not come back to hurt the Tigers though.

Final Takeaway
This is by far the most exhilarating Gator baseball game (outside of winning the title), that I have ever watched! Before giving my final take on tonight's incredible victory, here are my final tidbits on a wild Game 3 of the Gainesville Super Regional:

  • Worth saying again is that Florida will be playing in their fourth consecutive College World Series after their walk-off win tonight.
  • This is the 12th time (seventh in the Sully Era) that Florida has advanced to Omaha.
  • The Gators improve to 14-6 in super regional play and have now won seven consecutive super regionals.
  • This is the first time in school history that Florida has advanced to the CWS on a walk-off of any kind!
  • This is the second time in school history that Florida has won a super regional game on a walk-off (Ryan Larson in Game 1 of the 2017 Gainesville Super Regional against Wake Forest).
  • The Gators finish with a 4-2 record against Auburn for 2018.
  • Blake Reese's double was his 16th of the season while Deacon Liput's two-bagger gives him his 14th for the 2018 campaign.
  • Jonathan India's home run gives him a team-leading 20 on the year while Austin Langworthy's legendary home run puts him at four on the season.
  • Blake Reese's steal of home plate ties him for the team-lead at 12, while Deacon Liput and Nelson Maldonaldo swiped their ninth and sixth bags of the year, respectively.
  • As a result of Austin's walk-off, Michael Byrne improves to 3-1 on the year.
  • Jonah Girand had himself a hat trick as he struck out three times tonight.
  • Auburn reliever Davis Daniel mowed down the Gator lineup after entering with one out in the fifth inning. The freshman would not give up a hit until the 10th inning, and struck out six while walking four in 5.1 incredible innings of relief. He threw 87 total pitches!
  • As a defense, Auburn made a plethora of incredible diving plays throughout the game to keep the Gators off the scoreboard.
  • Florida fans answered the call as 5,958 people packed the Mac for this instant classic. This is the third largest crowd ever in the history of Alfred McKethan Stadium at Perry Field!

To advance to the College World Series in this fashion is truly amazing. It had me thinking I was watching a Game 7 of the  MLB World Series with how much every single pitch and at-bat mattered. The Gators grinded out a well-deserved victory, and that can carry major momentum into the CWS.

Florida deserves to celebrate into the night, but in six days they need to figure out how to fix the offense. Their first opponent in Omaha will be the No. 6 seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders (44-18), who eliminated Florida from the CWS back in 2016. It will be just the second meeting between these two schools on the diamond.

The Red Raiders are a good ball club, and no amount of good pitching on Florida's end can make up for the lack of run production. If the Gators wish to repeat, they need to get the bats rolling again and quickly.

First pitch for Florida/Texas Tech will be at 7 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on ESPN2. The Gators will probably go with junior right-hander Brady Singer (12-1, 2.30 ERA) while Tech will most likely counter with either junior right-hander Davis Martin (7-5, 4.56 ERA), sophomore right-hander John McMillon (5-3, 4.14 ERA), or sophomore right-hander Caleb Kilian (9-3, 3.04 ERA).

As for the Auburn Tigers, my hat goes off to them and their head coach Butch Thompson. They fought hard throughout all of super regionals and came one win away from upsetting the defending champions. They have nothing to hang their heads about. They finish the season 43-23 and have a very bright future ahead of them as they will try to end a 21-year College World Series drought in the 2019 season.

*All stats accredited to