Look Back: LSU's Drive to the 1993 CWS Title
Editor's Note: The following is a feature story on LSU’s 1993 NCAA Championship baseball team, which will be honored prior to Friday’s game vs. Ole Miss in Alex Box Stadium in recognition of the 20-year anniversary of its College World Series title.
NATIONAL CHAMPIONS ... AGAIN!
Before the 1993 season, LSU head coach Skip Bertman ordered 40 T-shirts with the words “Wire to Wire” printed on them to give to his players.
Bertman did this in response to three national polls pegging the Tigers the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
“When we were ranked No. 1 in the preseason, I wanted them to get shirts as a motivational thing,” Bertman said after the season. “The pressure was so great on our guys. I didn’t realize it would be that hard.”
The baseball legend never did hand out those shirts, but his message was clear. If the Tigers wanted to finish out on top, they would have to remain focused through four enduring months of baseball and fight through the inevitable adversity awaiting them.
The ‘93 squad did exactly that battling through a rough start, a bevy of injuries and a school record 125 errors to take the national title. The team truly went “wire to wire” starting and ending the year No. 1.
The program, which celebrated its 100th anniversary season in 1993, claimed its second national title in three years and fifth straight 50-win season. The team boasted six College World Series All-Tournament team members and 13 future major league draft picks. Additionally, the Tigers featured three All-Americans, including Brett Laxton, the National Freshman of the Year and sophomore second baseman Todd Walker, the CWS Most Outstanding Player.
Walker, one of the greatest players in Tiger Baseball history, had a phenomenal sophomore campaign batting .395 and leading the SEC with 22 homeruns and 102 RBI. Furthermore, he set an SEC record at the time hitting safely in 33 straight games and was named the SEC Player of the Year.
Junior right fielder Harry Berrios was the third All-American that season. However, unlike Laxton and Walker, Berrios also won a championship as a member of the ‘91 squad. Nonetheless, the junior believes the ‘93 title was even more special.
“I think it meant a lot more because I was a bigger part of it,” Berrios said. “I was better that year. It was my junior year, my last year at school, and it meant a lot more that second time.”
Berrios led the SEC with 22 doubles and finished second behind teammate Walker in homeruns (17) and RBI (82). Moreover, his fantastic play in the SEC Western Division tournament guided the team to its fourth consecutive SEC crown.
The junior outfielder batted .526 with three homeruns and nine RBI as the team battled back from the losers’ bracket and won three straight games to take the title. Berrios, the tournament MVP, provided a much needed spark heading into the NCAA Regionals.
“You’re going for a championship, so it’s not always about the best team, but it’s about getting hot at the right time,” Berrios said of the tournament.
“Our team got hot at the end. You have to be going strong into the finals, and that’s what we did.”
The Tigers took that momentum into the NCAA South Regional held in Alex Box Stadium. Behind the stellar pitching performance of senior southpaw Mike Sirotka, the South Regional MVP, the team got off to a great start recording a 7-2 victory over Western Carolina. However, the Tigers dropped into the losers’ bracket after a discouraging loss to Kent State and had to once again claw their way back to secure their spot in Omaha, Neb.
The Tigers roared back with a 13-6 win over Baylor but faced a tough challenge in the regional final against South Alabama. Down 4-3 in the seventh inning, the Tigers searched for a much needed boost on offense.
They found it in first baseman Kenny Jackson. The senior tied the game in his final at-bat in Alex Box Stadium with an RBI double fueling an offensive assault that ended with four runs in the inning. For Jackson, the moment was bittersweet.
“We were down late and came back and won that one,” Jackson said. “That was a big memory. That was probably the biggest of my career.”
Sirotka, pitching on only two days’ rest, shut the door on the Jaguars with his second complete game of the regional. The Tigers’ 9-4 victory propelled them to the College World Series for the sixth time in eight seasons.
The Tigers gutted out four hard-fought victories in five CWS games to advance to the championship game. The title game featured LSU and Wichita State in a rematch of the ‘91 title game in which LSU squeaked out a 6-3 win. With a second national championship at stake, Bertman called on freshman sensation Brett Laxton to face the Shockers’ potent bats.
Bertman wasn’t disappointed. Laxton completely shut down the Shockers in one of the most dominant pitching performances in CWS history. Utilizing an overpowering fastball with an occasional knee-buckling slider, the scintillating freshman from Audubon, N.J. threw a complete game, three-hit shutout and racked up a staggering 16 strikeouts, a championship game record that remains standing today.
“Brett did not surprise me with his composure and his great fastball,” Bertman said after the game. “He had the best slider he has had at LSU during this game.”
Laxton’s performance capped off a remarkable season for Tiger Baseball and coach Bertman, who received National Coach of the Year honors for the third time in 10 seasons at LSU. The skipper’s passion and intensity were the driving forces in the Tigers’ title run.
“Bertman was an intense coach, and his drive and determination demanded greatness from the players,” said Matt Chamberlain, the No. 3 starting pitcher on the ’93 squad. “The system he put in place obviously paid off on the field for many years.”
The 1993 national championship team exemplified all the qualities of greatness: premium talent, superb coaching, perseverance and an unyielding desire to be the nation’s best. With their second national title, the Tigers introduced the program as a baseball dynasty.
“I am really proud of this 1993 National Championship team,” said Bertman after the championship game. “We started off average, and we had a lot of injuries like most teams do. People stepped up and everybody stayed together.”