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Bo's Baseball Bites: The 2023 NCAA College Baseball Season Finale

Updated: Jul 1, 2023


76th NCAA World Series Is In The Books; LSU Stages 34-Run Comeback Over Two days


OMAHA, NE – For a few moments, some of us thought NCAA Division I baseball had returned to the good ole Gorilla Ball of the late 1990s.


No, there weren’t any 21-14 slugfests, like USC’s victory over Arizona State in the 1998 Finals, but a 24-4 Game 2 win by Florida, and then LSU’s return 18-4 thrashing of the Gators for the national title in Game 3 of the NCAA Baseball World Series (sorry, fans, I cannot in good diamond faith call it the Men’s College World Series), evoked some of those memories in the 76th CWS, played before 200,000-plus partisans at Charles Schwab Field (nee TD Ameritrade Park) in downtown Omaha.

And, in coming back from a 20-run setback to win by 14 runs, the Bayou Bengals made more history than just earning their seventh NCAA baseball crown – second only to the USC dynasty with 12 diamond titles from 1948-98, 10 coming in the 1958-78 era. The 34-run turnaround and 24 Tigers hits in the championship contest of the best 2-of-3 series both were firsts in NCAA World Series annals.


And an even more important milestone, which was actually included in our Omaha 8 preview guest-written by fellow CBC-er Doug Kyle: LSU head coach Jay Johnson became the third different Tigers head coach to win the CWS, along with fellow legends Skip Bertman (five) and Paul Mainieri (one).


In doing so, the Southeastern Conference power joined just Texas--which shared six World Series trophies along with LSU prior to the 2023 joust--with three different head coaches capturing six different championships, and all are in the ABCA and College Baseball Foundation Halls of Fame – Bibb Faulk (who won the single CWS played in Wichita, KS, prior to the 1950 move to Omaha), Cliff Gustafson (who passed away earlier this year at age 91), and the late Augie Garrido (also a three-time NCAA champion during his tenure coaching Cal State Fullerton).


Though the run production was ample for the final two games, prevailing Southerly winds at Omaha held the first 12 games to six runs or fewer for each team. Even the first round of the best-of-3 finales resulted in a 4-3 Tigers win over the Gators in 11 innings.


Then those old South breezes turned into a North gale, blowing directly out to left and center, and the home runs started raining (figuratively), to the tune of 50 combined markers in the last two tilts, and a UF-set record CWS record with 23 hits in the 24-4 onslaught that lasted all of...one day, until LSU posted 24.

A week earlier in this 10-day baseball bonanza, the somewhat sentimental choice for the local fans, little ole Oral Roberts, outlasted TCU 6-5 in a tussle of the good Christian schools, prior to “heathen” Florida edging Virginia by the same score in the Friday nightcap.


Other opening-round fracases found overall No. 1 seed Wake Forest getting off to a successful start by a 3-2 margin over Stanford, and LSU “blasting” Tennessee 6-3 in the only non-one-run sortie in the first four games. In fact, there were five more one-run squeakers prior to the final two blowouts.


Wake Forest also kept the No. 1 jinx intact for the 23rd consecutive CWS, as the Deacons topped LSU 3-2 and then lost two consecutive games, with the Tigers coming back through the loser’s bracket in the two-tiered tourney. For those sequencing-theory numerologists, Wake Forest has reached the CWS three times in its history and has now finished 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.


TCU upended Virginia 4-3 and then topped Oral Roberts 6-1 in a return match, before falling to the Gators 3-2, leaving Florida unscathed in bracket play at 3-0, days off, and with tons of rested pitchers – or so it seemed.


LSU received some unexpected mound heroics, from lefty Nate Ackenhausen with a six-inning start against Wake Forest, and four-plus innings of ace relief from freshman Griffin Herring vs. the Deacons. The Tigers battled their way to the finals hoping not to have to rely too much on Paul Skenes, the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player with 21 strikeouts, seven hits allowed, and two walks over 15 2/3 innings in starts against Tennessee and Wake Forest.


The 2023 Dick Howser Trophy presented by The Game Headwear recipient became one of just a handful of players to earn MOP honors without playing in the championship game. Skenes got a standing ovation anyway, when he trotted to the LSU bullpen, in case of a mound emergency, in the fifth inning of the final tussle. Fortunately, the Tigers had put the Gators away by midgame, and his hardest work came in piggy backing injured catcher Alex Milazzo onto the field for the postgame title celebration.


An elated Jay Johnson, who also reportedly received a $200,000 coaching bonus for winning the national title (in a story by a major outlet), was even more pleased with his team coming out of the loser’s bracket and overcoming the Sunday thrashing in Finals Game 2.


“We knew from the first day we met last August that this team had a chance to win it all,” he said in a postgame on-field interview. “These players have worked so hard since then, and they deserve the championship. It is a great night for LSU baseball."


And the LSU coach should know about the final weekend pressures: he was guiding the Arizona baseball program in 2016, when the Wildcats fell to upset-minded Coastal Carolina in the finals, the only NCAA Baseball CWS championship series in the last 15 years not involving at least one SEC team.


The Bengal Tigers also became the fourth consecutive SEC squad to grab all the marbles, following Vanderbilt in 2019, the COVID-canceled 2020, Mississippi State in 2021, and Ole Miss in 2022 (both Mississippi schools winning their first NCAA baseball team crown in each school's history).


Tennessee also ended another possible NCAA first, when the Volunteers downed the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in the NCAA Hattiesburg Super Regional. No state has ever produced three consecutive national champions in NCAA baseball annals, dating all the way back to 1947, when President George H.W. Bush played for the Yale team on its trek to Kalamazoo, MI, for the first CWS.


And just think: it's only 231 more days until the official 2024 Division I baseball opening weekend games on Friday, Feb. 16, with DII-III, NAIA and NJCAA schools actually allowed to begin two weeks earlier.

I can’t wait…


*****


Bo Carter is the Executive Director of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and is a long time professional in sports media and information. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and has plied his trade in the Southeastern Conference, the Southwest Conference, and the Big 12 Conference. In addition to his NCBWA duties, he also serves as a consultant and columnist for the National Football Foundation. Follow the NCBWA, which produces ranking polls for D1, D2, and D3, as well as naming All America teams at both the D1 and D2 levels and the Dick Howser Trophy (presented each year in Omaha at the Men’s College World Series) at @NCBWA. And, if you’re a college baseball fan, you don’t have to be media to be a member, check them out at ncbwa.com and join today!

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