Rarely do championship games live up to their billing. It's the nature of sports, really -- just as often as you're going to have a nail-biter, or perhaps more often, you're going to get a game that a team wins comfortably. And sometimes even a game that a team runs away with.
But the finale of the SEC baseball tournament that LSU and Vanderbilt played Sunday -- and that LSU won, 5-4, in 11 innings -- was what a tournament championship game between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation should be. And it was a fitting send-off to a season that saw two teams essentially control the SEC this year, with the division winners finally clashing in a winner-take-all showdown.
After all, these teams did not meet during the regular season. Both won their divisions a week or more before the season was over and were clearly the class of the conference -- but the only way they would meet directly is if they both won their way into the tournament championship game. That hadn't happened since 2007. (Though it happens every five or so years with some regularity, so perhaps we were due.)
And when it finally did happen this year, it was worth it. LSU took the lead with three runs in the second inning; Vanderbilt responded with two of its own. LSU got another run in the fourth, and seemed to be easing along -- until Vanderbilt struck for two in the bottom of the seventh. That inning was brought to a close when Jared Foster gunned down Spencer Navin at the plate as the Vanderbilt player tried to score on a fly ball, one of several times that LSU's defense, and the outfield in particular, saved the game. Foster would also score the winning run on an RBI single by Chris Sciambra.
In practical terms, the game meant nothing. LSU will technically head to the NCAA tournament with the automatic bid from the SEC, but LSU has known for weeks that it was going to make the field, and Vanderbilt's position is unlikely to change much based on the loss. They will still be a national seed when the brackets are released Monday, and still have an extraordinarily strong case for the No. 1 seed.
But the game mattered in the sense that it brought together the conference's two best teams and answered the question of how close they were when Vanderbilt won the regular-season conference championship outright. And they have us the kind of high-quality game that you might expect when the two best teams in college baseball get together.
Might they meet again in the College World Series in Omaha? Some fans were already hoping for as much on Twitter. And, as both teams showed in Sunday's game, there are few better ways that the 2013 college baseball season could end.