Looking Back: LSU’s Bregman Leaves Mark

LSU is one of the very best programs in college baseball history. And Alex Bregman is one of the greatest players ever to don LSU’s purple and gold. No less an authority than Skip Bertman already declared Bregman the best shortstop in school history, and the superlatives have flowed like Abita as Bregman’s brilliant college career has wound down over the last few weeks.

Bregman played his final game for LSU on Thursday night, and he left college baseball fans with one last indelible reminder of his greatness. In Tuesday’s win against Cal State Fullerton, Bregman’s bat did the talking, as he rapped out four hits. This time, he dazzled TD Ameritrade Park with his defense.

In the fourth inning, Derek Odell hit a sharp chopper up the middle that looked destined for center field, but Bregman ranged to his left, gloved the ball well behind second base, spun around and threw off balance while his momentum carried him into right field. The throw was right on target and managed to retire Odell easily. It might have been the best defensive play of the 2015 CWS, and it was a nice parting gift to fans from a player whose defensive magic has repeatedly left us all breathless over the last three years.

“It’s an honor to be on the same field with that team and that program — especially Alex Bregman,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said in his opening statement after his Frogs knocked LSU out with an 8-4 win. “I had a chance to coach him for a summer (with Team USA), and in 25 years of college coaching, there’s very few players that you sit in the other dugout and just truly enjoy watching them compete. And so I’ll always consider that an honor.”

Bregman belongs on that short list of great players I’ll always consider myself lucky to have covered for three years in college, alongside players like Kris Bryant, Buster Posey, David Price, Michael Roth, and Bregman’s Vanderbilt foil, Dansby Swanson. I’ll miss watching him play — but LSU’s coaches and fans will miss him even more.

“I just don’t even want to think about life without Alex Bregman,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I’ve been thinking how lucky I’ve been to be his coach for three years and enjoyed every second of that young man in our program. We thought we’d win at least one national championship together, but we’ve won a lot of games. We just couldn’t win the last game of the year.”

Alex Bregman celebrates after scoring a third-inning run Thursday against TCU (Matthew DeBoer)Alex Bregman celebrates after scoring a third-inning run Thursday against TCU (Matthew DeBoer)

Ultimately, as great as LSU’s offense, defense and ace were, and as great as Bregman was, the Tigers just couldn’t overcome their fatal flaw — they never had a reliable No. 3 starter. Losing lefthander Mac Marshall to junior college ball and fellow freshman southpaw Jake Latz to injury just left the Tigers lacking on the mound after Alex Lange and Jared Poche’. Still, the Tigers managed to go 54-12, win the SEC regular-season title, and finish the season as one of the last five teams standing. By any measure, that is an extraordinarily successful season — but particularly so for a team that only had two dependable starting pitchers.

“It’s sometimes unfair that teams get judged at LSU by whether or not they won the last game of the year,” Mainieri said. “These kids played their hearts out all year. What a great group.”

While Mainieri spoke, Bregman sat two seats to his right and tried to swallow his anguish — as well as his paper water cup, which he gnawed at and ripped up. His eyes were rimmed by red, but he didn’t look dejected, like many players do when their college careers come to an end. He looked tightly wound, ready to strike, and defiant, as though the prospect of falling short of a national title infuriated him.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but Bregman’s body language seemed telling. This is a player who insisted upon greatness from the time he was a freshman. His Pedroia-ish drive contributed as much to his success as his Pedroia-ish skill set.

Like Dustin Pedroia, Bregman will be in the big leagues very soon, but Thursday night his mind was still on LSU, its present and its future.

“We left it all out there every time we took the field,” Bregman said. “We love playing for Coach Mainieri and the other coaches. And the road to Omaha starts with the guys that are in that locker room that are coming back next year. It starts now.”

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