Atmosphere, controversy, comebacks — this had it all

The LSU Tigers used to play Geauxrilla Ball.

Sunday night in the NCAA Baton Rouge regional final, they played Gonzo Ball.

The game started in twilight and ended in The Twilight Zone, with some moments straight out of the Bizarro World.

Outside Alex Box Stadium, the mood was festive beforehand. Music played. The delightful smell of some deep-fried goodness wafted in from the parking lots.

Inside the ballpark, the mood went from festive to pensive to fretful to manic. Regular-season baseball may be a relaxed, pastoral experience. Postseason baseball can be one nerve-jangling, pitch-to-pitch, out-to-out rollercoaster ride.

Sunday night against Houston, catcher Kade Scivicque launched a leadoff home run to left in the bottom of the second inning, but after that, the game settled into a long, subdued pitcher’s duel between LSU starter Kyle Bouman and Houston starter David Longville.

Bouman turned in a third straight clutch late-season start, holding the Cougars scoreless on just two hits and two walks before leaving after six innings.

But he didn’t leave before the controversy started to percolate.

Houston designated hitter Justin Montemayor led off the fifth inning with a grounder to first base. LSU’s Tyler Moore ranged to his right to make the play and tossed to a covering Bouman, who timed his arrival at first in the general vicinity of Montemayor’s.

Replays seemed to show the Cougars runner got there first. He certainly thought so. Montemayor went ballistic and got thrown out of the game, while Bouman went on to calmly retire the side.

In the seventh came what looked like an it’s-your-kind-of-night moment for LSU.

After reliever Kurt McCune walked leadoff man Frankie Ratliff, first baseman Tyler Moore slipped trying to field a bunt from Connor Hollis.

Second baseman Conner Hale was over covering, but before he could get the ball, it bounced right off the bag and almost literally hopped into his glove. He easily stepped on first and lobbed a throw to Alex Bregman at second to double off Ratliff. Jacob Lueneburg, the replacement for the banished Montemayor, then grounded out to Moore unassisted to end the Cougars’ seventh.

Then LSU came to bat in the seventh. Fireworks over Alex Box after the game wouldn’t have been as dramatic.

Hale led off with a single then Moore ripped a pitch that tightroped the right-field line and came to rest beneath a gate in the outfield wall just to the right of the baseline. Right fielder Kyle Survance ran over and threw up his hands to signal he though the ball was stuck and should result in a ground rule double.

Hale came home and, smartly, so did Moore. By the time the first base umpire got over to look at the ball, he ruled it could have been played and Moore’s inside-the-park home run was allowed to stand.

Someone suggested a fan kicked the ball out before ump arrived. What does the Zapruder film say? Certainly back in Texas a conspiracy theory cottage industry is already springing to life around this game (“The ball lodged down and to the right, down and to the right, down and to the right.”)

Oh, the Jim Garrison of it all.

Houston coach Todd Whitting then went absolutely nuts (and, somewhere, one assumes Montemayor did, too). He went out twice to argue, called for the NCAA regional representative, implored the heavens and muttered a few unprintable oaths.

But Moore’s home run stood. And after Christian Ibarra scored on a bloop double down the right-field line by Bregman (what else?), it seemed LSU was well on its way up 4-0.

Not so fast, baseball breath. The Cougars, thanks in part to an interference call on McCune as Houston’s Michael Pyeatt tried to run up first base on a grounder, tied the game with four runs in the top of the eighth.

After all that, zny way the game played out was going to be anticlimactic.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.