Rabalais: Atmosphere, controversy, comebacks — this one was crazy

The LSU Tigers used to play Geauxrilla Ball.

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

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

Perhaps the strangest occurrence of all: LSU being forced to a second regional final game with a 5-4, 11th-inning defeat.

The Tigers have started nine regionals 2-0 since the NCAA tournament went to 64 teams in 1999. This is the only the second time LSU has even found the “if necessary” game to be necessary. The other time was in 2001, when the Tigers lost to VCU, then came back to win to advance to a super regional with Tulane.

It didn’t start out that way at all for the Tigers.

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 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 arrived at first with the runner. Bang, bang.

Replays seemed to show Montemayor got there first. He certainly thought so. Montemayor went ballistic and got ejected (by rule, he’s also benched for Monday’s game), while Bouman went on to calmly retire the side.

The insanity really boiled over in the seventh. 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 Servance ran over and threw up his hands to signal he thought 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. Makes you wonder what the Zapruder film says. (“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 ape (and, somewhere, one assumes Montemayor did, too). He went out twice to argue, called for the NCAA regional representative, lodged a protest and muttered 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, leading 4-0.

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

Houston threaded three straight two-out hits together in the top of the 11th to take what turned out to be the winning before the Tigers went 1-2-3 in the bottom half of the inning.

When considering Monday night’s showdown, you are first inclined to say the odds are with LSU. The Tigers are playing at home, where they have now lost for just the sixth time in 38 games. And there’s that amazing stat that says LSU has advanced every time it’s been in this situation.

In a moment that would have made Patrick Reed proud, likely LSU starter Alden Cartwright promised — promised, not guaranteed — a Tigers victory after the game. A competitor should be confident. I have no problem with that. And Bregman and Moore said they flushed the loss immediately.

But there has to be a seed of doubt still there, planted by the fact you had both hands around a huge victory and let it slip away when everything seemed to be coming up aces.

On the Houston side, there is the euphoria of pulling out a victory when it looked like you were fighting an undertow current. That and the Cougars’ still-sturdy pitching staff make one think the Tigers are teetering on the brink of elimination instead of firmly ready to push back with a win.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.