CORVALLIS, Ore. — Austin Bain emerged from the media workroom at Goss Stadium and embraced his father, who was standing just outside on a chilly Oregon night. Paul Mainieri put his arm around Antoine Duplantis as they made their way toward the team bus waiting to depart the ballpark for good.
Those are the sights that encapsulate why Mainieri calls elimination day the toughest of each and every year that doesn’t end in a championship.
The 2018 season won’t be remembered among the great campaigns for a storied LSU program that prides itself on an Omaha-or-bust mentality, but the performances that kept an injury-ravaged team from going off the rails will be fondly remembered once the pain and disappointment of Sunday night’s 12-0 loss to a superior Oregon State club begin to fade with time.
None more so than Bain, who epitomizes a season at times held together with duct tape and elbow grease. His contributions as a hitter and pitcher kept LSU afloat more times than one could reliably keep tally of.
“Whenever a season comes to an end it’s always a sad time, especially when you have to say goodbye to kids,” Mainieri said. “Especially the kid to my left here, Austin Bain. I’m so proud of everything he did this year. He really salvaged our season for us.”
Bain fought valiantly right down to the bitter, inevitable end in Corvallis. The last healthy and available arm on a depleted staff, Bain held back the Oregon State onslaught for as long as he could before their methodical approach broke through in a four-run sixth inning.
The senior stayed in a crouch behind home plate as the game-breaking runs came across knowing full well that the end was near. He left the mound one last time to a well-deserved ovation from the pocket of LSU fans who made the trip west to see LSU’s season end.
“I wish I had longer, but I gave it everything I had for four years, so I’m happy and have no regrets,” an emotional Bain said on the postgame podium.
Duplantis, a model of consistency for his three years, belongs in that same group. He was the consummate everyday player regardless of if he was playing on an elite unit competing for a national championship or an average one fighting just to make an NCAA Regional.
The junior will have a decision to make in the weeks ahead if he wants to sign professionally or return for one more ride in an LSU uniform. Either way, his legacy will be a lasting one.
“I’m not sure what is going to happen with Antoine, but if that’s the last game Antoine plays for LSU, he’ll go down as one of the greatest of all time,” Mainieri said. “If he wants to come back for his senior year, I’ll be glad to have him.”
“Obviously I’m realistic and it went through my mind a little bit, but at the same time I just wanted to enjoy my last time being with this team no matter what,” Duplantis added on his future. “Either way, it’s the last time this group of guys will be together.”
There were other performances along the way that kept a flawed LSU teams from coming apart at the seams.
Ma’Khail Hilliard went from an unheralded member of a draft-raided freshmen class to a weekend rotation stalwart. There’s perhaps no greater testament to his season than the degree to which LSU missed him as arm soreness kept him from appearing in the Corvallis Regional.
Hal Hughes, another freshman, provided steady defense at shortstop from game four on when a debilitating back injury suffered by Josh Smith thrust Hughes into an impossible situation. His clutch ninth-inning double against Northwestern State helped LSU temporarily save its season.
Senior Beau Jordan had a career year after fighting to keep his starting job at the outset of the season. He produced one of the few bright moments in Sunday night’s rout, coming off the bench with an opposite-field single that felt befitting of his career in Baton Rouge.
Daniel Cabrera and Todd Peterson blossomed into full-fledged stars down the stretch after trying starts to their respective seasons. Both have bright futures ahead on a 2019 team that has the potential to re-load and re-join the nation’s elite if things break right this offseason.
The 2019 season could be a special one for LSU, but that’s a topic for another day. Before turning the page, take a moment and appreciate some of the unlikely heroes that kept the 2018 edition from unraveling into a total mess.
There won’t be any banners hung or additions made to the intimidator at Alex Box Stadium in the coming months, but the contributions of Bain and some of his cohorts are plenty deserving of fond remembrance nonetheless.