Experienced College World Series teams have recent heartbreak on their minds as they seek longer stays

Experienced College World Series teams have recent heartbreak on their minds as they seek longer stays
World-Herald News Service

LSU coach Paul Mainieri had purple beads hanging from his neck, an Omaha ballcap resting his head and a supersized grin on his face as he proudly addressed reporters following a marathon super regional title game victory in the early hours of Monday morning.

It’s a moment — when you’ve officially secured a College World Series berth — that is filled with elation and satisfaction. You can exhale. You can celebrate.

Just not for very long.

And the eight teams who’ve qualified for this year’s CWS know that all too well.

As exhilarating as it is to make it to Omaha, it’s just as devastating to be sent packing right away. The entire field has been in the CWS at least once in the last six years, so a good portion of these coaches and players have experienced elimination here firsthand — the tears with their teammates, the hugs with their family members, the soulful stares at the same diamond they’d been dreaming of dogpiling on for months.

Somebody will win the 2017 title, yes. But for most of the participants, by the time next week ends, their recent tales of CWS near-misses will include yet another agonizing chapter.

“We’ve had some pretty good teams go up there, but we didn’t get to come back with much,” Mainieri said after Monday’s 14-4 win to clinch a super regional title. “There’s seven other really good ballclubs up there along with us. We like to think we’re just as good as anybody up there, but when you’re playing that caliber of competition you’ve got to play your best.”

Many of these eight teams just have not done that here lately.

LSU has plenty of great tradition in Omaha — six titles! — but it’s just 1-4 in its last two CWS appearances.

Only two programs have been here more times than Florida State(22), but the Seminoles have never won a national title.

Cal State Fullerton’s lost seven straight CWS games.

A&M’s dropped six straight here — and it’s just 2-10 all time at the CWS.

Louisville’s lost five CWS games in a row.

This is Florida’s sixth trip to Omaha in the last eight years, and it’s yet to make the CWS championship series. In fact, the Gators have gone 0-2 at the CWS three times during that span.

TCU’s back for the fourth straight season. But it’s not made the CWS championship series yet, either.

The Horned Frogs last year lost twice to the eventual national title winner, Coastal Carolina. And it wasn’t easy to take.

“It’s real disappointment, as disappointed as I’ve ever been leaving this great city,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said at the time. “Because we had the club to win this thing.”

TCU presumably feels just as confident this time around, too. And it’ll be plenty motivated to avoid leaving Omaha without the ultimate prize.

But then again, that’ll be the mentality of the other seven teams.

You just don’t know what’s going to happen.

“I take numbers and throw them out the window at this point,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said this week. “It’s all about winning. We’ve won a lot of tough games — a lot of ugly wins. But an ugly win is better than a pretty loss, I know that.”

If you get to Omaha, you’re worthy — and everyone here has a legitimate chance, according to O’Sullivan. He referenced Virginia’s title in 2015, when the Cavaliers began the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 seed in a regional. He noted that Vanderbilt won the whole thing the year before, and that Commodores team finished in a tie for fifth in the SEC. No one expected Coastal Carolina to make its championship run last season.

The key, each coach always says, is maximizing the opportunity because that emotional high you experienced after a super regional win will be amplified exponentially if you’re the club hoisting the trophy here in two weeks. That’s the motivation. That’s the goal.

“We’re not done yet,” LSU senior shortstop Kramer Robertson said Monday. “This isn’t the end. We’re ready to go.”

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