OMAHA, Neb. — The LSU baseball team that won the most games in school history on its way to the College World Series suddenly finds itself in danger of heading home after the minimum stay.
The Tigers committed two errors that led to UCLA’s only runs as the Bruins prevailed 2-1 in the College World Series on Sunday night in TD Ameritrade Park.
The Bruins (45-17) advanced to a winners bracket game at 7 p.m. Tuesday against N.C. State, which defeated North Carolina 8-1 earlier Sunday.
LSU (57-10) will play North Carolina in an elimination game at 2 p.m. Tuesday. The Tigers will have to win that game and three more in a row to advance out of their bracket in the double-elimination tournament.
“It’s pretty simple: We lose another one, our season’s over,” said senior first baseman Mason Katz, whose fourth-inning home run provided LSU’s only run. “I don’t think anybody on our team wants to go home.
“Every day is a new day. We don’t have any runs on the board or taken off the board because of how bad we might have played today.”
Catcher Ty Ross’ throwing error set up the tying run in the sixth, and shortstop Alex Bregman’s fielding error allowed the tiebreaking run to score in the eighth. Both runs were unearned and led to the first loss of the season for All-America right-hander Aaron Nola (12-1).
“Had we made all the plays for Aaron, they may not have scored,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. “We really gift-wrapped the two runs that they did score.”
In three postseason starts covering 24 innings, Nola has not allowed an earned run. Sam Houston State scored five unearned runs against him, and Nola shut out Oklahoma.
LSU had an opportunity to tie the game against UCLA closer David Berg in the bottom of the ninth when Katz reached leading off on shortstop Pat Valaik’s throwing error.
Mainieri signaled to Raph Rhymes, who had hit into a team-high 13 double plays during the season, to lay down a sacrifice bunt, which Mainieri had not done in several similar situations during the season.
“All year I would have had Raph hit in that situation, and he’s had a propensity for hitting into double plays,” Mainieri said. “I was going to go ahead and bunt because he hadn’t really been swinging the bat great the whole game.”
But after Rhymes took two balls, Mainieri switched to a hit and run and Rhymes hit a grounder right at third baseman Kevin Kramer, who started a double play.
“He hit it so hard they were able to get the force at second before Mason could get there” Mainieri said. “I gambled, and we came up snake eyes.”
Still, the Tigers weren’t finished.
Christian Ibarra walked, and pinch hitter Tyler Moore singled to center, sending pinch runner Jared Foster to second. JaCoby Jones, who had developed flu-like symptoms upon LSU’s arrival here Thursday night before recovering, worked the count full before flying out to right as Berg got his 22nd save.
“That was a grind,” Bruins coach John Savage said. “I think at the end of the day it was our type of game.”
The game figured to be a tight battle between Nola and UCLA ace Adam Plutko (9-3), and that’s exactly what it was. The difference wound up being that the Bruins played flawlessly behind Plutko, who allowed four hits and a run in seven innings, walked two and struck out two.
LSU held a 1-0 lead on Katz’s home run as it entered the sixth when the Tigers gave UCLA the help it needed to score.
Brian Carroll led off with a bunt in front of the plate for a hit and he advanced to second as Ross threw wildly to first and the ball kicked into foul territory. It was Ross’ second error in as many games, his only errors of the season.
Kevin Kramer’s grounder to second moved Carroll to third and Eric Filia’s sacrifice fly to left sent him home with what became an unearned run when Nola got the next batter to end the inning.
UCLA went ahead with another unearned run in the eighth. Pinch hitter Ty Moore led off with a single and pinch runner Christoph Bono went to second on Carroll’s sacrifice bunt.
Kramer flied to left and Nola looked like he would get out of it when Filia hit a hard grounder right at Bregman, but he couldn’t handle it and the ball skipped into center field for an error as Bono scored.
Nola gave up five hits, walked one and struck out five. As effective as he was, he wasn’t dominant. The Bruins put a runner on base in each of Nola’s eight innings except the second and the leadoff batter reached in each of the last five.
“It was real frustrating letting that leadoff guy get on,” Nola said. “I battled as hard as I could until the final pitch.”
After UCLA took the lead in the eighth, Nick Rumbelow pitched a scoreless ninth, striking out three, to keep LSU within a run.
The Tigers had a threat right away as Mark Laird doubled against Plutko with one out in the first, but Bregman struck out and Katz grounded back to the mound.
With one out in the fourth, Katz drove a ball over the fence in left field for the first home run in four CWS games, giving the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
But that was all LSU could manage against Plutko, James Kaprielian, who pitched a perfect eighth, and Berg.
“We just kept stringing quality at-bats, one right after the other,” Plutko said. “Finally we were lucky enough to break them down a little bit, and that was the difference.”