By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
OMAHA, Neb. — This is the day Paul Mainieri dreads every year.
LSU’s season came to an end Tuesday night with Florida winning 6-1 to capture its first national championship.
It was a heartbreaking, oh-what-could-have-been ending to a magical run that brought the Tigers right up to the precipice of the goal each and every team dreams of when players report for camp way back in February.
For Mainieri, it means bidding farewell to a group of veterans who will never put on the purple and gold again.
“This is always the hardest part of what I have to do, is to say goodbye to kids,” the coach said. “And these next 48, 72 hours are the worst two or three days of the season. And especially when you have to say goodbye to so many wonderful young men that have given so much to the program.”
Two of the players who’ve meant the most to him were seated directly to his right.
Shortstop Kramer Robertson, LSU’s emotional leader, and lefty Jared Poche’, the winningest pitcher in program history, are all that remains of a freshmen class that arrived on campus four years ago.
Together with sparkplug Cole Freeman and slugger Greg Deichmann, they made up the ‘Fab Four’ who returned for one more run at a title.
Add in ace Alex Lange, stalwart catcher Mike Papierski and reliever Hunter Newman and that’s a departing core that accomplished everything short of bringing home a seventh national championship.
Robertson, the ever-honest de facto team spokesman, fought back tears as he tried to put into words what that group and his four years at LSU meant to him.
“You don’t get to play with them again. I think that’s the hardest thing,” he began. “You always think you’re going to win it. And for the finality of it all is tough. But I’m at peace with my career, as I’m sure Jared is as well.
“I gave everything I had to this university and to this team. It’s tough to think it’s over. But like I said, I’m at peace with everything. I gave everything I had. Poché gave everything he had, and we just didn’t win the national championship. We got second place, but it was a special group of guys in there, and we made relationships that will last forever.”
There’s bright days ahead, of course. Underclassmen like Antoine Duplantis, Josh Smith, Zach Watson, Eric Walker and Zack Hess will now ascend into the leadership that now exit to begin their futures in professional ball.
But on Tuesday night, the wounds of coming so close still so fresh and raw, the mood was that of somber farewell to a group of veterans who leave the program with their heads held high.
For good reason, too.