FORT WORTH, Texas — The LSU gymnastics team came into Saturday night's NCAA championship final fueled by every motivational cliche at its disposal.
Burn the boats. Leave nothing in the tank. Compete free, catch the momentum and finish strong.
I know I say this a lot, but I’m not kidding when i say this team is my favorite thing in this entire world. Never been so close to so many people with so many different personalities. Wouldn’t change a thing #happyheart pic.twitter.com/nrvl4vA5Qg— Olivia Gunter (@GunterOlivia) April 21, 2019
The Tigers did that. The result was LSU's second-best ever score in an NCAA final, a 197.825. But it was also only good once again for a runner-up finish to the Oklahoma gymnastics machine for the third time in four years.
Oklahoma won its fourth NCAA title since 2014 with a 198.3375, the second-best score by any team in the NCAA final. Against that sort of onslaught, LSU coach D-D Breaux wanted her Tigers to feel nothing but a sense of achievement in what they did.
"There's nothing wrong with finishing second to a great Oklahoma team," Breaux said. "No one was going to beat them tonight. This team can take a lot of pride in a glorified second place."
The greatest four-year run in the history of this program. Thank you will never be enough. 💛💜 pic.twitter.com/2UnHDTItEX— LSU Gymnastics (@LSUgym) April 21, 2019
No. 3-seeded LSU (28-5) finished second to No. 2 UCLA in Friday's first NCAA semifinal at the Fort Worth Convention Center Arena, 197.675-197.5125. The Tigers turned the tables on the defending national champions in the season's biggest meet, though, as the Bruins finished third at 197.5375 in the final meet for seven-time NCAA championship coach Valorie Kondos Field.
Denver was fourth at 197.000.
"You look at the scores, and it's so close," said McKenna Kelley, one of LSU's four seniors. "It comes down to fractions and quarters and 10ths. It really comes down to who flips best that night. Everyone is good if you get to this last day."
The meet was the swan song for one of LSU gymnastics' greatest senior classes: Sarah Finnegan, Lexie Priessman, Julianna Cannamela and Kelley. Together they helped LSU to those three NCAA runner-up finishes, two Southeastern Conference regular-season championships and three SEC Championship meet titles, the most recent one last month in New Orleans.
The Tigers were once again led by the incomparable Finnegan. The two-time SEC gymnast of the year and winner of this year's AAI Award as the nation's top senior gymnast, Finnegan delivered some of her best performances in the final meet of her career.
Finnegan started with a 9.9125 on vault on a 9.95 start value, then followed with 9.95s on uneven bars, balance beam and floor, tying Oklahoma's Maggie Nichols for the best all-around score (39.7625).
KONDOS FIELD'S FINALE: Valorie Kondos Field's last dance as UCLA coach ends in 3rd place finish
Finnegan also won the NCAA bars individual title Friday with a 9.95, matching the NCAA bars title she won in 2017 in her native St. Louis. Only two scores the entire weekend were better than Finnegan's four 9.95s: a 9.9875 by Oklahoma's Brenna Dowell on vault Saturday, and a 9.9625 Saturday on beam by Nichols.
"We couldn't have done anything more," a tearful Finnegan said afterward.
"We've had an amazing season. We've had lows, we've had highs, we broke records, we earned accolades, we did everything together. I'm so proud of the growth this team has shown. I can't wait to watch them next year."
LSU started off wobbly with a 49.1875 on beam Friday, but working in the Olympic rotation Saturday opened with a solid 49.375 on vault. The Tigers then posted two straight 49.4625s on uneven bars and beam before closing out with its best score of the weekend, a 49.525 on floor.
The sweetest moments happened tonight... beyond thankful to be a part of this amazing group. Love each one of you from the bottom of my heart 💗 https://t.co/LCkbnBJ0Ku— Ashleigh Gnat (@Ashleigh_Gnat) April 21, 2019
Sophomore Christina Desiderio earned respect for her comeback from a disappointing performance Friday. She led off LSU on beam with a fall then stepped out of bounds on her floor routine, pressuring the rest of the Tigers' lineup to erase her scores with better performances.
But Desiderio rebounded strongly by posting two counting scores Saturday: a 9.8875 on beam and a 9.90 on floor.
"I'm so proud of her," Priessman said. "Without those two scores we're not in second place. She did her job today."
Priessman recorded a 9.90 on bars and a 9.875 on floor in her two events. Cannamela had a 9.8375 on vault.
Leading LSU 99.0625-98.8375 midway through the meet, Oklahoma gave the Tigers an opening when Evy Schoepfer stepped out of bounds on floor in the second spot, recording a 9.1125. If another Sooners gymnast also had stepped out of bounds, LSU might have had the opportunity it needed to win the title.
But Oklahoma didn't break again. When Olivia Trautman anchored its floor routine with a 9.95, tying among others Finnegan and Kelley for the best floor score of the night, the championship was all but clinched for the Sooners with one rotation to go.
Tiger Nation, THANK YOU 💜👑 pic.twitter.com/M5cy5bZWUI— K E N ✰ (@mckennamckelley) April 21, 2019
"We're going to have to be that much better," Breaux said when asked what it will take to overtake Oklahoma for LSU's first NCAA title. "We have to work a little harder at sticking the landings.
"We were runner-up to a great team."
This article is written by Scott Rabalais from The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.