OMAHA, Neb. – It's a dream LSU coach Paul Mainieri will never forget.
When his team was ranked No. 2 to start the season, Mainieri repeatedly said that he dreamt of being the coach at Rosenblatt Stadium to hoist the national championship trophy. He didn't get the opportunity to be that guy when he guided Notre Dame to the College World Series in 2002. But knowing LSU and its rich tradition when he decided to head down to Baton Rouge, La., over three seasons ago, Mainieri had to think his dream eventually would come true.
With thousands of fans decked out in purple and gold and chanting "LSU! LSU! LSU!" in the ninth inning of Wednesday's CWS Championship Series final against Texas, Mainieri saw his lifelong dream flash before his eyes when senior pitcher Louis Coleman struck out UT outfielder Connor Rowe to end the game with an 11-4 victory.
Mainieri won a national title. His dream had become a reality. LSU's sixth championship.
"Now that this moment is finally here, it's almost just surreal," Mainieri said. "I have a myriad of emotions. We've had a wonderful group of kids all year long that have done everyone we've asked them to. This group has gone through a lot with hurricanes and other setbacks. Just like our state, we wanted to represent with a never-say-die attitude."
After Coleman's strikeout to end the game, LSU players stormed the field and dogpiled just in front of the pitcher's mound. A large flag reading "LSU, National Champions" was unveiled and there were fans along the front row behind the LSU dugout with tears rolling down their faces. They had been waiting nine years for another moment like this.
Mainieri was celebrating the moment with his players. But just seconds into the celebration, he started to look around. His was looking for his father, Demie Mainieri.
The father and his son hugged. There were tears. There also were smiles.
"I told my dad that I was thinking the whole ninth inning about he and my mom," Mainieri said. "I thought for a little while this afternoon how disappointed I would be for my mom and dad to not be able to see their son win a national title."
The entire Mainieri family has plenty of reasons to smile tonight.
When Mainieri made the decision to move from Notre Dame to LSU after the '06 season, he realized he was going from a relaxed environment in South Bend, Ind., to a pressure cooker in Baton Rouge. LSU was a program with five national titles, and boy, did fans of the Tigers expect to win.
Mainieri accepted the challenge. He was motivated by it.
Year 1 with the Tigers didn't go as planned, but we got a glimpse of what was to come in '08 when the Tigers set an SEC record for consecutive wins and came short of reaching the CWS Finals with a tough loss to North Carolina.
This season, the Tigers began the spring near the top of every ranking. Some rankings had the Tigers No. 1. But still, Mainieri believed the Tigers had something to prove. And so they embarked on an incredible journey that included winning the SEC regular-season and tournament crowns.
Then came a regional championship. Then a super regional championship.
Now they have the ultimate prize.
When everyone sits down years from now and reflects back on what this year's LSU team was all about, there are many things that will stand out.
LSU senior pitcher Louis Coleman had an opportunity to sign a pro contract after an excellent junior season for the Tigers. He decided to come back with hopes of winning a national title before he left the school he so dearly loved.
"There was no one on this team better to close out the game than him [Coleman]," LSU pitcher Anthony Ranaudo said. "After sacrificing a chance to play pro ball to come back for his senior season, it was fitting. I learned a lot from Louis, and I will miss him."
Ranaudo showed signs of being a dominant pitcher at the end of last season. But this season, he kicked his play into high gear and blossomed into one of the nation's premier pitchers. He also had a trio of gutsy performances in the CWS. His future with the program will be even brighter.
At the plate, Blake Dean continued his powerful ways, and Ryan Schimpf tallied power numbers that he could've only dreamed of years ago. Jared Mitchell, who fought consistency issues last season, all of a sudden became a consistent hitter in 2009. He finished his season with College World Series MVP honors on Wednesday.
There's also the freshman class. Reliever Matty Ott entrenched himself as one of the nation's premier stoppers this season and saved LSU in Game 1. Outfielder Mikie Mahtook had the game-winning hit in Game 1 and put together a productive campaign. And don't forget about infielders Austin Nola and Tyler Hanover, who also had integral roles throughout the season.
These Tigers were talented, and even with some young players, still were experienced. But most important, this group of players formulated a bond that made Mainieri proud to call them a true team.
"It's just an unbelievable feeling to be in a position where you're going to be remembered forever in the city of Baton Rouge," LSU outfielder Mitchell said. "We did this for the guys that had done it before. We put the LSU program back on top where it belongs."
Back in Baton Rouge and sitting in right field of the old Alex Box Stadium is the billboard called "The Intimidator." It lists national titles for 1991, '93, '96, '97 and '00.
When the new Alex Box opened its doors this season, Mainieri, his team and LSU fans had hoped to see the billboard back in its rightful spot. Some opposed the idea.
But now the Tigers have '09 to add to the billboard, and chances are Mainieri once again will have a wish come true.
"Do we get a new 'Intimidator' with a new number?" Mainieri asked LSU athletic director Joe Alleva at the end of the news conference.
"You bet," Alleva said.
The title tradition continues at LSU. Mainieri's dream has just begun.