OMAHA, Neb. — It’s almost too much for Jared Mitchell to wrap his mind around.
Already a national champion in football and a first-round draft pick in baseball, Mitchell ended his college career Wednesday night with an NCAA title in baseball and the College World Series Most Outstanding Player Award.
Quite a way to go out.
“If there’s a better way, write the story for me,” Mitchell said after LSU defeated Texas 11-4 in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the CWS finals.
Mitchell hit a three-run homer in the first inning to get the Tigers started. He batted .348 with two home runs, three doubles and seven RBIs in six games in Omaha.
The Tigers’ big first inning came after Texas freshman Taylor Jungmann had limited them to five hits in a 5-1 loss in Game 2 on Tuesday.
“We were talking about getting an early lead,” LSU first baseman Sean Ochinko said. “Jared’s home run got the wheels spinning. That’s what we needed at that point.”
Mitchell, a receiver on the LSU team that won the BCS championship after the 2007 season, said he hoped to ignite the Tigers after their sluggish offensive performance the night before.
“In football, converting third downs wins championships,” he said. “In baseball, clutch hits win championships. Who’s going to get the big hit when we need it?”
Texas rallied to tie, but LSU put the game away with a five-run sixth inning.
Now a program that two years ago wasn’t good enough to qualify for its conference tournament is the best team in college baseball again.
The Tigers (56-17) won their sixth national title — tied with Texas for second-most all-time behind USC’s 12 — and first since 2000.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be put in the position where you’re remembered forever in Baton Rouge now,” said Mitchell, a first-round pick of the Chicago White Sox. “To be in that company with the players who won championships, to put LSU baseball on top where it belongs, to be a part of that is special.
“It’s everybody pulling together, a sense of urgency we had, and we began to play our best ball at the end of the year.”
It was the first national title for 51-year-old coach Paul Mainieri, who played his freshman year at LSU in 1976 and returned to the school after coaching stops at St. Thomas (Fla.), Air Force and Notre Dame.
“I’ve had wonderful kids everywhere I’ve been,” Mainieri said. “They’re all feeling a part of this. I’m so happy for these kids. They’ve done everything I’ve asked.
“They played great. They played great defense. Our pitching has been solid all year. When we got to the end of the season everyone was determined they would get it done. It’s been a coach’s dream to have a group like this.”
The Tigers came into the CWS ranked No. 1 in the major polls, and that’s where they’ll finish after keeping Texas from becoming the first No. 1 seed to win the NCAA tournament since Miami in 1999.
“They are the best team we’ve played by far,” Texas coach Augie Garrido said. “We didn’t lose it. They won it. It was a well-deserved championship.”
Louis Coleman struck out Kevin Keyes for the second out in the ninth inning, bringing most of the 19,986 fans at Rosenblatt Stadium to their feet. Coleman struck out Connor Rowe for the final out, threw his glove high in the air and then sank to the bottom of the pile in front of the mound.
LSU won national titles in 1991, ’93, ’96, ’97 and 2000 under Skip Bertman. Though the Tigers made it back to the CWS two times under Smoke Laval — he went 0-4 here — the program fell off before Mainieri arrived three years ago.
His 2007 team, which included four regulars on the 2009 title team, failed to qualify for the Southeastern Conference postseason tournament. His 2008 squad struggled until midseason, then rolled off an SEC-record 23 straight wins on its way to the College World Series.
This year, the Tigers won the SEC regular-season and postseason titles and swept through regionals and super regionals on their way to Omaha.
“They’ve done everything they need to do to become champions,” Mainieri said. “Had we not gotten this one, it would have left a little bit of an empty feeling.”
Eric Olson/The Associated Press