LSU’s record-setting baseball team is headed where it has seemed destined all season — the College World Series.
The Tigers followed a record-setting regular season with an undefeated run through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, finishing off Oklahoma 11-1 in Game 2 of the Baton Rouge Super Regional on Saturday night at Alex Box Stadium.
LSU, which swept three games in the Baton Rouge Regional a week earlier before winning Game 1 of the best-of-three series 2-0 on Friday night, is returning to Omaha, Neb., and the CWS for the first time since its 2009 national title season.
The Tigers (57-9) tied the 1997 team’s record for victories in a season, adding to its records for regular-season wins (48), Southeastern Conference wins (23) and wins before the NCAA tournament (52).
JaCoby Jones, whose eighth-inning triple started the winning rally Friday, had a home run, three other hits, two RBIs and three runs. Ty Ross drove in three runs. Jared Foster, Raph Rhymes, Andrew Stevenson and Alex Edward drove in one each. The Tigers scored an unearned run with the help of two of OU’s four errors, and another run scored on a wild pitch.
Starter Ryan Eades, who left after four innings and a 52-minute weather delay, and three relievers held the Sooners (43-21) to five hits a night after Aaron Nola threw a two-hit shutout against them.
LSU will be making its 16th trip to the CWS as it seeks its seventh championship. The Tigers will play their first game next Saturday against UCLA, the winner of the Fullerton (Calif.) Super Regional.
Saturday’s victory for LSU completed a yearlong mission for a team that fell a victory short of Omaha in the Baton Rouge Super Regional against Stony Brook last season.
“It’s been a long 365 days for us, I can tell you that,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
The Tigers won the first game of last year’s super regional, then lost two straight. But this team never seemed in serious danger of a repeat disappointment after overcoming a 1-0 first-inning deficit with single runs in the second, third and fourth.
The largest crowd in LSU baseball history — 11,401, which was 306 more than the record set 24 hours earlier — celebrated as eight seniors finally earned their first CWS trip in their final game at The Box. Three of those players avoided being what would have been the first group of four-year seniors to fail to reach Omaha since LSU first went in 1986.
“I am so tired of hearing that,” Mainieri said. “We couldn’t let that happen.”
Three seniors took their final at-bats during an emphatic six-run ninth that was a de facto curtain call. Mason Katz of Harahan got a standing ovation before flying out, Rhymes of Monroe left to a standing ovation when Chris Sciambra pinch-ran for him after Rhymes’ RBI double, and Edward of Baton Rouge did the same when fellow senior Casey Yocom ran for him after Edward’s RBI single.
“I guess you couldn’t have scripted it any better than that,” said Rhymes, who was drafted in the 15th round by the Detroit Tigers on Saturday, one day after Katz went to the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth round.
“This may have been the best weekend of my life,” Katz said. “Maybe I have a better one coming up.”
OU took a 1-0 lead against Eades in the bottom of the first, but Jones had an RBI single in the second, Mark Laird singled and came around on two errors in the third, Foster had an RBI single in the fourth and Ross squeezed home Rhymes in the sixth for a 4-1 lead.
Eades allowed four runners in the first two innings, then seemed to settle down. After he had his first 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, the game was stopped as severe weather was detected in the area, though no rain fell during the delay.
“Once they started tacking the single runs up,” Sooners coach Sunny Golloway said, “I think that made it easier for Eades to settle in, and he pitched much better with the lead.”
When play resumed, Will LaMarche (3-0) relieved Eades. After a scoreless fifth, LaMarche got into trouble in the sixth. With one out, he hit Jack Mayfield, and one out later Mayfield stole second and went to third on Ross’ throwing error.
After LaMarche walked Matt Oberste, Nick Rumbelow relieved and Oberste stole second. But Rumbelow struck out Hector Lorenzana to end the threat.
Rumbelow got the first two outs in the seventh before Taylor Alspaugh singled. Garrett Carey then hit a drive to deep left, and Rhymes leaped at the wall to catch it.
“I read the ball the whole way,” Rhymes said, “but I don’t think I made a play on it as much as the ball just found my glove.”
Jones’ sixth homer of the season increased the lead to 5-1 in the eighth before the celebratory onslaught in the ninth.
Another key senior, Chris Cotton of Shreveport, finished it with two perfect innings of relief.
As Katz and Rhymes posed for postgame pictures with a banner reading, “See you in Omaha,” Cotton stood on the mound reflecting on a four-year career that began with him walking on to the team.
“This is surreal,” he said. “This is what we’ve all dreamed about.”
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