LSU celebrates after defeating Florida in Game 3 of the NCAA College World Series baseball finals in Omaha, Neb., Monday, June 26, 2023. LSU won the national championship 18-4. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)
Last night, the LSU Tigers defeated the Florida Gators 18-4, becoming the NCAA College Baseball Champions for the seventh time in school history. The Tigers proved able, bouncing back from a 24-4 Game 2 bludgeoning to do some bludgeoning of their own.
The series was a rematch of the 2017 National Championship series, which saw Florida sweep LSU to take home their first national title in program history. LSU secured revenge, walking away with their first title under second-year Head Coach Jay Johnson.
The team was led by star outfielder Dylan Crews, a top MLB Draft prospect. Crews went 4-for-6 at the plate in Game 3, scoring three runs and driving in one more. Crews was not the only hot bat. The team tallied 24 total hits in a game that was never really in question after the second inning.
Florida went up 2-0 early, but the Tigers put up six runs in the top of the second inning, chasing the Gator starter, Jac Caglianone, out of the game. From there, they never looked back, continuing to pile on runs as the LSU faithful roared. The stellar performance culminated with Gavin Guidry’s strikeout of Florida’s Colby Halter for the final out to secure the National Championship for the Tigers.
Coach Jay Johnson’s team came out on top after an action packed final series, which saw two amazing games before last night’s contest. In Game 1 on Saturday, fans were treated to a back and forth battle until LSU’s Cade Beloso blasted a go-ahead homerun in the top of the 11th inning. Florida could not answer in the bottom of the 11th, taking a 1-0 series lead.
As alluded to at the outset, Florida took offense to this close loss, and sought to even the score Sunday. The Gators blasted six homeruns en route to a 24-4 blowout. The 24 runs were a CWS single-game scoring record.
Another Year, More SEC Dominance
Looking back on the year in college baseball, it was yet another season of SEC dominance in the college baseball world. Throughout the year, the SEC repeatedly had multiple teams ranked in national polls and consistently was the deepest conference in the country. National Champion LSU spent the year alternating with Wake Forest in the top two spots atop the rankings. At the end of the season, eight of the conference’s fourteen teams were ranked nationally in the Top 25.
Heading into the postseason, the SEC had ten teams qualify for the field of sixty-four that made up the NCAA tournament, with eight of those schools serving as regional host sites (denoting a top 16 seed). Six would qualify for the super regional round, with three of those (LSU, Florida, Tennessee) moving on to the CWS finals in Omaha, Nebraska. On one side of the bracket, Florida would win three straight games over Virginia, Oral Roberts, and TCU to qualify for the championship. On the other side, LSU was able to rebound from an early loss to win three consecutive elimination games in dramatic fashion, including two in a row over Wake Forest, to reach the finals.
Could the SEC Be Better at the Nation’s Pasttime than It is on the Gridiron?
While the conference is perhaps most widely known for its high level of football play, the conference is arguably more dominant in the sport of baseball. With LSU’s victory last night, the SEC now has four straight national champions, with Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Vanderbilt winning the previous three.
In fact, in the last fifteen seasons, the SEC has won nine championships, with only one year coming where an SEC team didn’t appear in the championship game. In four of those years, the championship series was between two competing SEC teams.
When SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey was asked on an SEC Now broadcast live from Omaha this weekend about the SEC’s impact on the growth of college baseball, he mentioned a few different factors that had led to the SEC’s dominance and position as the premier college baseball conference in the country.
Sankey included the investment by the conference and its member schools to their baseball programs, pointing to numerous facility and venue renovations that have recently been completed or are ongoing in the conference. He also talked about the elite level of preparation SEC athletes are receiving for the MLB, mentioning high level coaching, facilities, NIL opportunities, and more. He credited these factors with being able to recruit the best athletes in the nation to SEC schools.
Based on recent data, the SEC continues to lead all conferences in average spending on collegiate baseball programs, and as the game becomes more popular nationally, one can only expect this trend to increase. This increased spending, and the aforementioned upgrades to facilities and venues, figures to lend itself to continued dominance on the field for the SEC.
According to Perfect Game, at least seven of the top ten 2023 and 2024 recruiting classes are SEC schools, which looks good for the conference’s chances of continuing their supremacy over the college baseball world. As the popularity of college baseball continues to rise, look for the SEC to continue its dominance well into the future. As a Mississippian, here’s to hoping our state’s schools can experience some of that success.