Freshman battles like a veteran
OMAHA, Neb. -- At the time,
In Monday night's College World Series championship opener, Game 1 of a best-of-three set between LSU and Texas, the Tigers' freshman center fielder struck out his first three at-bats against Longhorns starter
But making contact proved reassuring. So did Mitchell, who approached his rookie teammate in the dugout, told him to shake it off and said, "You're going to come back up again in a big spot."
After Mahtook had a Jeterian single in the 10th (a weak ground ball poked just between the first and second basemen), that big spot arose in the 11th. With two outs and the bases loaded, Texas' fourth reliever of the night,
To come out here and play a team like this, on this stage, just shows what our ball club is about," Mitchell said.
Texas, meanwhile, had been the dramatic walk-off winner three times already in the NCAA tournament, including a 25-inning regional win over Boston College and a two-home run comeback in the ninth against Arizona State on Friday. This time, the Longhorns were on the opposite side, shut down by a Tigers bullpen that held UT scoreless over the last five innings.
It's the clash of titans college baseball wanted. While Fresno State's unlikely championship was a great feel-good story last year, this year finals pits the tournament's No. 1 seed, Texas, a six-time champion, against the polls' No. 1 seed, LSU, a five-time champion. Few could argue that these aren't the sport's best two clubs.
For a night, Rosenblatt Stadium played like the Midwestern edition of the new Yankee Stadium. Game time temperature at 93 degrees, but with the 59 percent humidity, the on-field heat index was 107 -- LSU designated hitter
Much of the pre-game hype and analysis pitted LSU's power against Texas' small ball approach (the Longhorns entered the game with 102 sacrifices to 45 homers), and after
And Garrido might have overmanaged in the sixth. Ruffin had thrown only 87 pitches through 5 2/3 innings, with 10 strikeouts, and led 3-1 with two runners on, and Mitchell coming to the plate. Rather than stick with his hot starter -- Ruffin admitted that his right calf was cramping but said after the game that he was confident he could have gotten out of the jam -- Garrido played the percentages and brought in his lefty closer,
"I was just thinking to stay inside the baseball and keep my front shoulder in, because I knew he was going to go away with everything," Mitchell said. "I knew he was going to attack the strike zone. The kid throws strikes and is their most reliable guy."
And when asked about the respect Texas showed him in bringing in its bullpen ace to face him so relatively early in the game, Mitchell demurred, saying only, "They were really trying to shut the door right there."
It was a hit that Mitchell might not have had a year, or even a month ago. In May, Mainieri resisted platooning Mitchell, who had been struggling against lefties, and allowed his raw, five-tool player work through his woes. "That kid is an athlete," Mainieri said, "and athletes figure it out."
This spring was, after all, Mitchell's first full season on the baseball team, even though it was his third year in Baton Rouge because Mitchell is also a receiver on the football team, meaning spring practice interrupted his play.
"I missed it, but I didn't
Of course, considering the likely riches that will be offered to him by the White Sox, those skipped football practices are probably moot. When Mainieri met with football coach
And it's true that Mainieri did bench Mitchell for part of last spring because he wasn't playing well while juggling time with the football team. This year Mainieri says Mitchell has improved in all areas, especially hitting lefties, defending rightfield and even bunting, though he rarely executes the latter in games.
"He's going to make a much better pro than he was a college player, when he's totally dedicated to baseball," Mainieri said. "Right now he's still trying to learn to play the game while we're playing for a national championship."
One of last year's top performers in Omaha, Georgia shortstop
Mitchell believes the versatility and skills of both sports will help him in the long run, and of course, he's already earned one of the biggest rings ever minted, thanks to LSU football. In fact, Mitchell and teammate
When the Tigers won the BCS title in January 2008, the players were all given massive championship rings. The rings are so large that when
Though Mitchell hasn't signed a contract, all signs point toward the first-rounder becoming a pro very soon after the College World Series. When an LSU fan shouted "one more year" after the game, Mitchell didn't look up from the T-shirt he was autographing -- intent on getting the young lady's name right, he even asked her to repeat the spelling -- and just shook his head, chuckling to himself.
For now, the only dreams he's vocalizing pertain to the Tigers he's helped put one game away from a College World Series title.
"The goal wasn't just to come here," Mitchell said, "it was to win here."