Sunday, June 21, 2009
Updated: June 22, 12:26 PM ET
Gibbs will be at home against Texas
By David Albright
OMAHA, Neb. -- It goes without saying that every LSU and Texas baseball player wants to win this year's College World Series.
But don't be surprised to find out that Micah Gibbs wants to win it that much more.
Gibbs will be behind the plate as LSU's starting catcher when the CWS championship series begins play Monday night at Rosenblatt Stadium (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN360.com).
The problem is the sophomore always saw himself playing college baseball for his hometown Longhorns.
Gibbs is from the Austin suburb of Pflugerville and spent his high school days playing against many of the same players he will face this week in Omaha. He even played some games on UT's home field, Disch-Falk Stadium.
"Growing up in Austin, it's one of those things where you would have liked to go there but at the same time I was in love with LSU from the time I was about 12 years old, so that was cool, too," Gibbs said. "[Texas] didn't talk to me at all but I'm not going to hold that against them.
"It's kind of ironic that we played Rice [in the super regionals] and Baylor [in the regionals] and now we're going to play Texas to win it all. It's definitely going to be fun."
Gibbs isn't in Austin is because Texas had already offered a scholarship to a catcher in the same class, so there wasn't room for him on the Longhorns' roster.
Instead, larger-than-life Cameron Rupp is the starting catcher for Texas.
"He has so much power," said Gibbs of the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Texas catcher. "He's a strong kid, he's huge and he's been giving them power all year. And he's catching well, too."
The same could be said for Gibbs.
He was voted to the All-SEC defensive team by the league's coaches this spring. And his numbers at the plate have improved late in the season.
This year, he is hitting .292 with six home runs and 42 RBIs over 65 games. In eight NCAA tournament games, his average jumped to .333 (12-for-36), and here at the CWS, he is hitting .375 (6-for-16) in three games.
"I'm sure Gibby is pretty fired up, being a Texan, but Gibby gets fired up for everybody," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "I don't think he'll try any extra hard just because he's from that state. I can imagine emotionally it's pretty exciting for him.
"I love the kid, he plays so hard. You can say all you want about [Louis] Coleman and [Anthony] Ranaudo and [Blake] Dean and everybody else, but to me, Micah Gibbs is our most valuable player. You don't realize how good he is until you don't have him back there."
|LSU catcher Micah Gibbs faces his hometown Texas Longhorns in the CWS championship series.|
Gibbs, who went to an LSU baseball camp as a kid and says his love for the Tigers started with that experience, arrived in Baton Rouge as a backup to then-starter Robert Lara and alongside classmate Sean Ochinko. Lara transferred before the 2008 season and Ochinko was the starter when that season began. By the end of March, Gibbs had worked his way into the starting lineup.
"Eventually we thought that the best move was to put him in there, and he ended up being the spark plug for our team last year that brought us to Omaha," Mainieri said.
Gibbs' first trip to the CWS was shorter than planned because LSU found itself back in Baton Rouge after only three games (1-2).
But for his initial season's worth of work (.322, 2 HR, 35 RBI) Gibbs made the freshman All-SEC team and he was a first-team freshman All-America selection by Baseball America.
Now he's the bedrock behind the plate and one of the unquestioned leaders of this LSU team shooting for the school's sixth national title.
Game 1 pitcher Louis Coleman (14-2, 2.68 ERA) has blossomed as a starter this year and he credits Gibbs with being a calming influence behind the plate.
"Whenever I throw a pitch, I'm more confident because of the way he handles himself behind the plate," Coleman said. "If coach wanted him to call the game, he could because he's so smart, he knows the hitters and he's a leader on the team.
"If it's bases loaded, two outs, a 2-2 count, I can throw it in the dirt if I need to -- it doesn't matter because I know he's going to block it. And he's a great receiver, too. If I put a ball on the corner that might be a little bit off I feel like he can get it in the zone."
The opportunity to play for a national championship -- especially against Texas -- is like a childhood dream come true for Gibbs. But he doesn't want to make any more of it the situation simply because of the team in the other dugout.
"I don't think there's going to be any added pressure for me personally," Gibbs said. "I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing all year.
"But I kind of don't want to go home and hear all about it all the time. It would be kind of cool to go back and say we're the ones that beat them."
See, it does mean more to the Tiger from Texas.
David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can say all you want about [Louis] Coleman and [Anthony] Ranaudo and [Blake] Dean and everybody else, but to me, Micah Gibbs is our most valuable player.
--LSU coach Paul Mainieri