BATON ROUGE - LSU's Kramer Robertson lives with it every day - literally.
The picture he put on his cell phone and has seen every day since is of Coastal Carolina dog piling near second base at Alex Box Stadium after eliminating LSU, 4-3, on a walk-off single by Michael Paez with no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the Super Regional on June 12, 2016, and reach the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
Robertson is on his knees at his shortstop position displaying "The Agony of Defeat" in his screen shot. Coastal Carolina, which had defeated LSU, 11-8, in the Super Regional opener, went on to win the national championship, making Robertson's hurt smart that much more.
"I look at that every single day," Robertson said, and he was looking at his cell phone when he said that.
That ending is why Robertson returned for his senior season at LSU to edit that ending instead of starting his professional baseball career after being selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 32nd round of the Major League Baseball Draft last June. That would not have earned him a lot of money, but many college baseball players leave after their junior seasons for the pros to get a jump on their dream. And seniors tend to get drafted lower than in their junior year. So it makes financial sense as well.
Robertson coming back to LSU, though, was not a business decision. It was a heart decision, which was also largely the case with fellow seniors Cole Freeman, the starting second baseman picked in the 18th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Sunday night starting pitcher Jared Poche (10-3, 3.13 ERA), who was selected in the 14th round by San Diego. Slugging right fielder Greg Deichmann, a draft eligible sophomore last year, also returned after getting picked in the 26th round by Minnesota.
The Fab Four all came back for Omaha. And entering Saturday's 8 p.m. Super Regional opener against Mississippi State, the the Tigers were two wins away from answering that dream. LSU and State will play again at 8 p.m. Sunday in the best-of-three series. A third game - if necessary - will be at a time to be determined on Monday.
Robertson was reminded last Sunday night after LSU won the NCAA Regional that he was in the same place he was last year at this time entering the Super Regional. He was asked if he would change anything in his preparation.
"I've been preparing for this weekend since Coastal Carolina walked off our our field last year and dog piled on my position," he said calmly. "I've been preparing for this since that day. I've thought about it every single day. There have been nights where I tossed and turned thinking about it."
Also in Robertson's memory is the fact that he tapped out to the pitcher with no outs and a runner on third base in the top of the ninth against Coastal Carolina when LSU tied the game 3-3 but could have had more.
"I've tried throughout the year not to think about it and think ahead because you've got to take care of the job at hand," he said. "This is the job at hand now, and there's nothing more that I want than to win two more games and get to Omaha. It's something I've dreamed about as a kid. It's why I came to LSU."
The son of national champion Baylor women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey, who is from Hammond and became a point guard legend at Louisiana Tech, Robertson came to LSU in 2014 from a stellar career at Midway High in McGregor, Texas, where he was the shortstop, quarterback and point guard.
"It's why I came back to school for my senior year as well as a few other guys," he said. "So I'm not going to do anything different because I've been preparing myself for the last 350-something days for this weekend. And I'll be ready to go, and this team will be ready to go."
The days have counted close to 365 now. The anniversary of LSU's Super Regional loss is Monday.
"You could smell the steaks," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said this week of the Tigers' proximity to Omaha and its dozens of steak houses. "Two to get to Omaha. When you start the NCAA Tournament, you know it takes five. We're three-fifths of the way there."
Mainieri has been to Omaha five times as a coach - in 2002 at Notre Dame and in 2008, '09, '13 and '15 at LSU with a national championship in 2009. Robertson was a sophomore in 2015, but did not get to make a trip as he was not playing because of an ankle injury and did not make the travel roster.
That haunts him, too.
"I watched it at home," he said.
LSU was out in three games after two losses to TCU around a win over Cal State Fullerton.
"I wanted to be there so bad," he said. "I was in a dark place."
The forecast for next weekend in Omaha? Mostly sunny with little chance of rain.
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