Well before the ninth inning of last Saturday's College World Series championship game, it became apparent that there would be no thrilling, come-from-behind finish as there had been in 10 of the 13 previous games played last week at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha. No way. Staked to a 7-0 lead over Wichita State after three innings, Louisiana State University freshman pitcher Brett Laxton took control of one of the wildest scrambles ever for the national championship and turned the title game into a yawner.
"Well, it was pretty exciting for me," said LSU coach Skip Bertman, after watching Laxton strike out a championship-game record 16 batters to lead the Tigers to an 8-0 victory and their second national title in three years. "Brett's performance was one of the greatest I've ever seen here. And it was exciting."
Displaying the composure of a seasoned upperclassman, not to mention a deadly slider and a 90-mph fastball. Laxton pitched a three-hitter against a Wichita State team that had scored 21 runs in winning its three previous World Series games. His complete game was the first in a title game since 1961. Along the way Laxton fanned every Shocker in the lineup at least once and didn't allow a base runner past second.
"He came with a fastball all day and pretty much stuck it to us," said Wichita State relief ace-DH Darren Dreifort, who got one of the three hits off Laxton but gave up two of the Tigers' runs.
Laxton, who retired the last eight Wichita State batters (four on strikeouts), said the drama of the week before had kept him from easing up once the Tigers had built their big early lead. On June 6, in his only other World Series appearance, Laxton had been knocked around for four runs in four innings by Texas A&M, but LSU rallied to win 13-8. The Tigers' only defeat in the tournament came three days later, when Long Beach State scored four times in the eighth inning to prevail 10-8. The same two teams met again last Friday, but this time LSU made the comeback, getting three runs in the bottom of the ninth to reach the final.
"Those comebacks were in the back of my mind," said Laxton, who was 10-1 with a 1.92 ERA during the regular season. "As we've all seen, anything can happen."
A two-time all-state pitcher at Audubon (N.J.) High, Laxton was selected by the San Diego Padres in the fourth round of last year's amateur draft, but he turned down a tempting $150,000 signing bonus. "My parents really pushed for me to go to school," said Laxton. "Especially my dad."
Laxton's father, Bill, spent parts of five seasons (between 1970 and '77) in the big leagues as a pitcher with five teams. Bill appeared in 121 major league games, almost exclusively in relief, and finished with a 3-10 record. "He got drafted right out of high school, and he signed," said Brett. "He played for 14 years, and afterward he didn't have anything to fall back on."
Now the elder Laxton is a truck driver for the Audubon Township Department of Public Works. "We're not real well off, but we live," said Brett. "That's why my dad wanted me to go to school, so that when I'm done in baseball, I'll have something to fall back on."
Bill had another message for his son before the championship game. "My dad called me the night before the game, and he told me to go out and have fun," Brett said. "He's never pushed me in this game. He's let me follow my own path. He just told me, 'Remember, that's why you're playing baseball—to have fun.' "
With a record 16 K's, the son of a former big leaguer pitched LSU to victory in the College World Series.