A Skip Bertman throwback column

Editor’s note: Former LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman celebrated his 82nd birthday last Saturday. The following is a column that Tiger Rag contributor Glenn Guilbeau wrote for Monday, May 24, 1993 edition of the Alexandria Daily Town Talk

BATON ROUGE – Happy Birthday Skip Bertman. Make a wish, and blow out all the trophies.

Bertman turned 55 on Sunday and collected his 13th championship trophy in his 10th year on the job when his No. 4 LSU baseball team defeated Mississippi State, 7-3, for the school’s fourth consecutive overall Southeastern Conference championship. Before Sunday, three was the most by one school as LSU won three straight from 1943-46 with the 1944 season cancelled due to World War II, and Alabama won three in a row from 1934-36.

Let’s count those 13 championship candles (excluding division titles) by season: 1986 – SEC, SEC Tournament, NCAA South I Regional (3). 1987 – NCAA South II Regional (4). 1989 – NCAA Central Regional (5). 1990 – SEC, SEC Tournament Co-Champions with Mississippi State, NCAA South I Regional (8). 1991 – SEC, National Champions (10). 1992 – SEC, SEC Tournament (12). 1993 – SEC (13). … And counting.

Bertman particularly likes the four straight in the SEC, which had been dominated by Mississippi State and Coach Ron Polk, his old friend from his Miami days, with five league titles from 1979-90.

“The boys may not sense it, but to win four in a row in the strongest baseball conference in the United States meant a lot to us,” Bertman said. “It entailed eight straight weeks of baseball plus the tournament this year. And that made it a little tougher. I am really proud of the guys.”

In a new format this year, the SEC West Tournament here and the SEC East Tournaments in Columbia, S.C., were counted toward the regular season title.

LSU (47-15-1 overall) finished 18-8 in the SEC, edging Tennessee of the East at 20-10 by percentage points, .692 to .666.

“Anybody can win over a weekend or in a tournament,” Bertman said. “But eight straight weeks is really something. They’ve been playing well for three months. Four straight years is a model of consistency, shows a lot of discipline. And they deserve all the credit in the world.”

Will Hunt, a former regular starter who three and a third innings of relief in two losers’ bracket wins Saturday, was given the start Sunday by Bertman just 45 minutes before game time over Matt Malejko. Hunt (9-1) responded with the longest outing of his career as the senior limited state to five hits and two runs in six and two-thirds innings for the win.

“I kind of like it that way – not finding out until just before the game,” Hunt said. “If I think about it too much, I get nervous. It helps being a reliever, too.”

If Hunt watched State beat Auburn, 13-10, earlier Sunday, he had more reason to be nervous. The Bulldogs registered 15 hits with five home runs, including a three-run shot by Rex Buckner, to win it in the 10th.

“Will Hunt was masterful. He held them to two hits into the seventh, and Mississippi State is a fine hitting team,” said Bertman, who masterfully called the pitches as usual.

“He had tremendous movement on his fastball early,” Polk said.

“He’d go on the outside half with a fastball, then come back inside with a fastball when you were thinking, ‘This guy’s got to throw a curve,’” said State’s Ricky Joe Redd, whose solo home run in the seventh cut LSU’s lead to 7-1.

LSU struck State for 14 hits in all. Russ Johnson hit a solo home run in the first inning and two-run homer in a three-run third inning as the Tigers took a 4-0 lead. That grew to 6-0 in the fourth on RBI singles by Jason Williams and Harry Berrios, who hit .526 for the weekend (10-for-19) with nine RBIs, three home runs, seven runs scored and two doubles as he took tournament MVP honors.

“We came out today to win four straight and make history,” Berrios said.

A sacrifice fly by Jim Greely hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth for a 7-0 lead.

Blake Anderson’s RBI double in the seventh cut LSU’s lead to 7-2 after Redd’s home run. Malejko finished State off, allowing just a solo home run to Drew Williams in the ninth for the 7-3 final.

Bertman had ace Mike Sirotka ready for relief just in case.

“I was thinking Will would go four or five,” Bertman said. “But even when he’s tired, his stuff is good because his ball sinks and sails. Then Matt really came on.”

And everyone lit the candles.

“Happy Birthday, Skip,” Polk said with slight sarcasm as he boarded the team bus.

The crown has been passed from one king to another as Polk continues to search for his first national championship. Bertman will go for No. 2 in the weeks ahead.

“By the time I’m 55, I’ll probably be dead,” Polk said.

A lot of other people may be, too, before someone replaces the Skipper of the SEC.

Update: Bertman would win his second national championship three weeks later, 8-0, over Wichita State at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. Two more SEC championships in 1996 and ’97 would follow for Bertman along with a SEC Tournament title in 2000 and three more national championships in 1996, ’97 and 2000 along with 11 trips to Omaha overall (1986, ’87, ’89, ’90, ’91, ’93, ’94, ’96, ’97, ’98, 2000) before he retired after the 2001 season.

Bertman went on to become athletic director from 2001-08 and produced four more national championships for a total of nine at LSU as he hired four coaches who won the ultimate prize – Les Miles in football in the 2007 season (hired in 2005), Paul Mainieri in baseball in 2009 (hired in 2007), Dennis Shaver in women’s outdoor track in 2008 (hired in 2004), and Chuck Winstead in men’s golf in 2015 (hired in 2006).B

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Glenn Guilbeau

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