LSU’s run-scoring ways haven’t ended. And neither has that late-inning voodoo in postseason games at Alex Box Stadium.
The Tigers overcame multiple deficits and scored six runs in the final three innings, storming back to beat Southeastern Louisiana 8-4 on Friday afternoon in a wild affair that opened the NCAA tournament’s Baton Rouge regional.
Coach Paul Mainieri’s hot-hitting club finally kicked it into gear, scoring two runs in the seventh and four in the eighth, and a season-high 9,328 roared this team to another crazed comeback at home.
“When you’re in this environment at LSU, where there’s such high expectations — it’s Omaha or bust — you have to believe in yourself,” Mainieri said. “It’s become a tradition with our program to rally late.”
Rally they did — right into Saturday’s winner bracket game.
The No. 8 national seed, LSU (45-14-1) will meet Houston at 7 p.m. Saturday in a pivotal game for this four-team regional. The winner of Saturday night’s game advances to Sunday’s regional final. That team can advance to next weekend’s best-of-three super regionals by winning one of two games Sunday and Monday.
The Tigers plan to start ace Aaron Nola on Saturday.
“We’re in a pretty good position,” right fielder Mark Laird said.
LSU won its ninth straight game, needing momentum-swinging hits and bumbling miscues from the Lions (37-24) over the final few innings.
The Tigers entered the seventh down 4-2. About 30 minutes later, a mostly purple-and-gold-clad crowd ignited for a final time on Sean McMullen’s two-run homer over the left-center field wall made it 8-4.
All four of LSU’s runs in the eighth were unearned. Christian Ibarra reached on a throwing error from the catcher, and he scored the go-ahead run on a wide pickoff attempt.
Alex Bregman had an RBI groundout, then McMullen took an 0-1 pitch over the wall to put the exclamation point on a familiar scene: a rocking Alex Box willing its beloved baseball team to an adrenaline-pumping late charge in the postseason.
“It’s awesome,” Bregman said. “It’s the best feeling when the crowd gets that loud.”
It’ll go down with the rest of the NCAA regional and super regional comebacks under Mainieri at the Box.
The Tigers did it in Game 2 against UC-Irvine in a 2008 super regional, and they had one against Southern in a 2009 regional opener. They stormed back to beat Oregon State in the 2012 regional final, and just last year they overcame a five-run deficit against Sam Houston State, taking the lead with — well, what do you know? — a four-run eighth inning.
“I don’t think we’re ready to write any books about today’s win,” Mainieri said, “but it has to do with the whole atmosphere at the Box. The legends, the lore of LSU baseball, and the great moments … our players love that stuff. They want to make their own.”
The Tigers’ late offense overshadowed some sizzling bats from the other dugout.
Starting pitcher Jared Poché allowed his most hits — eight — in a game this season and tied his season high by giving up four runs in a six-inning outing. Mainieri started Poché with the plan to save Nola (10-1, 1.49 ERA) for a more formidable opponent Saturday.
Poché walked just one batter, but Southeastern swung early and often against the strike-throwing lefty from Lutcher. The Lions hit LSU with leads of 1-0 and 4-2 before the magic unfolded at Skip Bertman Field.
In the seventh, Kade Scivicque’s single to left field scored Alex Bregman to cut Southeastern’s deficit to 4-3. Tyler Moore followed with a one-out blooping RBI single over the shortstop’s head. It scored McMullen, who had walked, with the tying run.
Then came the eighth. The Tigers had four hits, and the Lions committed that pair of errors. The Box boomed to life, and LSU staved off what would have been a monumental upset.
The Tigers had lost just one NCAA regional opener in program history — they’re now 26-1 — and Southeastern has won just one NCAA tournament game.
“At the end of the day,” Lions coach Matt Riser said, “one inning got us.”
It ruined an impressive performance from Southeastern starter Andro Cutura. The junior righty went 6.1 innings, allowing nine hits and four runs amid the rowdy environment. He walked two, struck out four and wiggled out of a host of jams with runners in scoring position. LSU stranded eight runners through five innings, five of them in scoring position.
But the bats finally came alive. The Tigers finished with 14 hits and now have 95 runs and 124 hits in their past nine games, a streak that spans their march last week to the Southeastern Conference tournament title.
They marched on again Friday — in a fashion all too familiar to their coach.
“It was scary there for a while,” Mainieri said. “I have a lot of confidence in my kids. They’re poised and composed.”