After a record-setting regular season in which almost everything went right for the LSU baseball team, Friday’s start of the Baton Rouge Regional of the NCAA tournament was filled with missteps.
The most important thing was that top-seeded LSU defeated No. 4 seed Jackson State 11-7 in Alex Box Stadium. The victory sent the Tigers (53-9) into a winners bracket game against No. 3 seed Sam Houston State at 7 p.m. Saturday. Jackson State (34-21) first will play Louisiana-Lafayette in an elimination game at 2.
The top-seeded Tigers needed 3 hours and 20 minutes to finally put away Jackson State. By then, LSU had used six pitchers and had lost Alex Bregman and Raph Rhymes to injury.
“Baseball is a crazy game,” said outfielder Jared Foster, who didn’t start but wound up hitting a two-run homer and a sacrifice fly. “You never know what’s going to happen. Fortunately, we scored enough runs to get the win.”
Less than 24 hours after one of LSU’s starting pitchers, sophomore left-hander Cody Glenn, was left off the active roster for violating an unspecified team rule, Friday’s starter, Ryan Eades, had his worst outing of the season. To add injury to insult, two of LSU’s five All-Southeastern Conference players — shortstop Bregman and left fielder Rhymes — had to leave the game in the fourth inning after colliding as Bregman caught a pop-up.
Rhymes needed three stitches to close a cut to his upper lip, but he said he could have continued. There was greater concern for Bregman, who was taken to a hospital to have X-rays taken of his facial bones, coach Paul Mainieri said. Both players said they would play Saturday night.
Junior right-hander Kurt McCune (4-1) shut down Jackson State after Eades left, and Mason Katz had a two-run homer, a double and two sacrifice flies as the Tigers overcame their rough start.
“That was one of the more painful wins that we’ve had,” Mainieri said. “It was a rough game, a tough game. Nothing went according to script.”
Eades had put runners on first and second with two outs in the first when rain interrupted play. When the game resumed 25 minutes later, Eades gave up a two-run double to Charles Tilery.
Eades lasted just 2.1 innings, allowing nine baserunners, and the mere seven outs he managed in matching the shortest start of his three-year career included a sacrifice bunt and a caught stealing.
“He picked an inopportune time to not have a very good day,” Mainieri said.
McCune picked an opportune time to have a very good day. He relieved with runners on first and second with one out in the third and got out of it with a strikeout and a ground out.
“I went in with the mindset of just getting out of that inning,” McCune said. “I never expected to go as long as I did, but I’m glad I did.”
He pitched a season-long 4.2 innings, allowing no runs and four hits while striking out a season-best five.
“Kurt came in and saved the day,” Mainieri said. “He was phenomenal — just absolutely outstanding. That’s as well as he’s thrown in a long, long time.”
LSU tied the score at 2 in the first thanks in part to two of Jackson State’s four errors. The Tigers took a 4-2 lead in the third on Katz’s sacrifice fly and Christian Ibarra’s RBI double, but the status of Bregman and Rhymes became a bigger concern than the scoreboard in the fourth.
With two runners on and two outs, Rhymes ran in and Bregman out after Ethan Bright’s pop-up. Bregman made the catch, then collided with Rhymes, who fell to the ground.
Both players were examined by medical personnel before walking to the dugout. They were both pinch-hit for in the bottom of the inning.
“I heard both of them call it, then I saw them run into each other,” said Ibarra, who moved from third base to shortstop after Bregman left. “Today was a weird game.”
“I don’t know what happened,” Rhymes said. “I knew I was bleeding pretty good, so I just laid there on the ground and waited for the trainer to bring a towel. I’ll be good for (Saturday).”
LSU seemed to take control with a four-run fourth, the highlight of which was Katz launching his 15th homer of the season off the screen in center field for an 8-2 lead. The advantage grew to 10-2 when Katz walked ahead of Foster’s home run in the sixth.
But once McCune left after seven innings, Jackson State fought back. Kevin Berry gave up three runs in the eighth before Nate Fury got the final two outs.
After Foster hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom half, Hunter Newman gave up a two-run homer to Fred Hampton in the ninth before Joey Bourgeois got the final three outs.
“They wouldn’t go away,” Mainieri said of Jackson State. “They were pests. They were very, very scrappy.”
Jackson State outhit LSU 12-11 but left 13 men on base.
“We left too many runs out there,” JSU coach Omar Johnson said. “You always talk about trying to get a lead in the beginning. Getting that lead early gave these guys confidence, but you have to play consistently throughout the game in order to win.”