Omaha is 'Baton Rouge North' again with LSU in the CWS finals

OMAHA, Neb. -- The familiar chant grew loudest on Saturday with two outs in the top of the seventh inning and two strikes on Oregon State's Jack Anderson.

Caleb Gilbert caught him looking.

"L-S-U! L-S-U!"

It resonated from every corner of TD Ameritrade Park and almost seemed to echo off the downtown buildings in the streets to the south and west.

When the NCAA and Omaha 10 years ago this September announced plans to move the College World Series from its aging, longtime home at Rosenblatt Stadium to a parking lot across 10th Street from the city's arena and convention center, this is what they envisioned.

This is what they expected and knew that they needed.

"L-S-U! L-S-U!"

This is what leaders saw and heard when they reached an agreement for 25 more years of baseball here, the longest contract ever inked by the NCAA to stage a major championship event at one site.

Fresh in their minds a decade ago were LSU championships -- five in a 10-year span that ended in 2000. The Tigers won another in 2009, the second-to-last CWS at Rosenblatt.

They've appeared twice before this year at the series' new home, finishing 0-2 in 2013 and 1-2 two years ago.

Those short stays barely allowed LSU's legion of fans to get settled downtown, where the landscape allows for the tournament to thrive in a way different than at the old stadium. That is if only LSU showed up as a main event.

Instead, the Tigers were a nice sideshow.

Over the past week, LSU and its fans have taken over, punctuated by a 6-1 win over No. 1-ranked Oregon State on Saturday. More LSU fans figure to arrive before the Tigers open the best-of-three championship series Monday night (7 ET, ESPN) against SEC rival Florida -- a 3-0 winner Saturday night over TCU in the other bracket final.

LSU beat the Beavers 3-1 one day earlier to force the win-or-go-home Saturday matchup. Before Friday, Oregon State had lost only four of the 60 games it had played this year. It had not dropped consecutive games in more than 13 months.

"It's hard to predict those things to happen," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.

What's not hard to predict is the shot of energy delivered to the CWS by the presence of LSU in the championship series. The Tigers have played for six titles and won six titles.

They forged a fantastic relationship with Omaha during the glory years at Rosenblatt, giving birth to young fans here and continuing to send a caravan of purple-clad people to the CWS during years in which the Tigers stayed home.

LSU fans are as much a part of the CWS as the beach balls and organ music.

But yes, without that familiar chant -- without LSU building on its postseason legacy -- something was missing at this seven-year-old venue.

Baton Rouge North, they've called it this week. And, finally, the name feels right again.

"Our fans know baseball," said Dan Henry, a retiree from Lake Charles, Louisiana, who bought CWS season tickets in 2011 and hasn't missed a trip since. "Most of the other fan bases will have a small nucleus that know baseball. Our fans know everything.

"They watch baseball."

Henry attended his first CWS in 1993 and arrives every year by motor home. Wearing purple socks that stretched to his knees, he waited for the Tigers after their victory Saturday in the lobby of the Embassy Suites, three-quarters of a mile from the stadium.

When the bus arrived, out poured the stars: catcher Michael Papierski, who homered from both sides of the plate Saturday; Gilbert, who threw a gem in the biggest game of the year; Alex Lange, the staff ace and recent first-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs; hard-throwing freshman Zack Hess, who closed both wins over Oregon State; and leadoff-hitting shortstop Kramer Robertson, who broke out with a 3-for-3 performance Saturday.

Robertson bleached his long hair Tuesday night, 24 hours after Oregon State hammered LSU 13-1. The Tigers then eliminated Florida State on Wednesday before the back-to-back wins over the Beavers.

"He wears his emotions on his sleeve," designated hitter Beau Jordan said of Robertson. "I think the team needs that."

Still dressed in his uniform as he entered the hotel lobby, Robertson found his mom, Baylor women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey. They embraced, and Mulkey congratulated freshman center fielder Zach Watson.

Before the game, Henry, the motor home-driving LSU fan, said he found Mulkey in the seats at the stadium and hugged her. He looks for her every game.

"We got 'em on the ropes now," Henry said she told him Saturday.

Turns out, she was right. The Tigers are back where they believe they belong, playing for a championship in Omaha, with a fan base that provides the familiar refrain.

"L-S-U! L-S-U!"

May the words echo through the streets of downtown.