Sterling season abruptly ends
“We didn’t expect it to end this early. It’s tough for everybody. This is a great team. To go two-and-out is upsetting. It’s heartbreaking to not be able to come back.” CHRIS COTTON, LSU closer
OMAHA, Neb. — As the records for winning were broken and the championships were claimed, it seemed inevitable that the LSU baseball team would stay a good while at the College World Series.
They had won more games before arriving here than any of the Tigers’ six national championship teams had, more than any of the other nine to reach the CWS.
They had won the most Southeastern Conference games in school history and claimed West Division and SEC tournament titles.
They were undefeated in winning regional and super regional titles as they set their sites on the ultimate prize.
But all the record-making and championship-taking came to an abrupt end during a 46-hour period at TD Ameritrade Park.
LSU (57-11) lost to North Carolina 4-2 on Tuesday afternoon after falling into the losers bracket with a 2-1 loss to UCLA on Sunday, heading home with an 0-2 CWS record for the fourth time.
“We didn’t expect it to end this early,” said reliever Chris Cotton, one of eight seniors whose Tigers careers ended when Christian Ibarra struck out for the final out in the ninth inning. “It’s tough for everybody.
“This is a great team. To go two-and-out is upsetting. It’s heartbreaking to not be able to come back.”
The primary cause of the Tigers’ downfall was a suddenly stagnant offense that produced three runs, six fewer than the previous fewest scored by a Tigers team in the CWS.
On Sunday, they had just five hits; on Tuesday, they had 10 but stranded 13 runners.
“We got guys on base and into scoring position, we just didn’t get the hits at the right time,” said designated hitter Sean McMullen, who had two hits and scored both runs. “That’s what it’s really all about.
“This ballpark is so big that the home run isn’t much of an option, and we didn’t get the timely hits.”
The Tar Heels (58-11) advanced to play Thursday against the loser of a winners bracket game between UCLA and N.C. State on Tuesday night.
LSU fell behind 2-0 in the top of the first and trailed the entire game. The score was 4-2 when the Tigers loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth before Mark Laird, who had singled three straight times, flied to left.
“It’s happened so many times this year where we came through in the clutch,” McMullen said, “but not this time.”
Left-hander Cody Glenn, pitching for LSU for the first time in 27 days, got the first two batters of the game easily, then yielded a single to Colin Moran and a two-run home run to Brian Holberton.
“I thought that home run was really crucial for us,” UNC coach Mike Fox said, “just kind of let the air out a little bit.”
Glenn put two runners on in the second but got out of it on a line-drive double play to first.
Landon Lassiter led off the third with a double, and Moran hit a hard grounder up the first-base line. The ball hit the bag, kicked away from first baseman Mason Katz and squirted by second baseman JaCoby Jones into shallow right field as Lassiter scored.
“It’s always good to get a lead early in the game,” said Tar Heels freshman Trent Thornton, who started and lasted seven innings. “When you get a lead early, it’s a confidence booster.”
The third run finished Glenn as Brent Bonvillain relieved.
Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said he considered going to Bonvillain to start the third before sending Glenn back to the mound.
“I wish I had (made the change),” Mainieri said. “That probably cost us another run, the hesitation to bring him in.”
Bonvillain kept LSU in the game, lasting 4.1 innings and allowing just one run. Cotton finished with 2.2 scoreless innings to keep the game close to the end.
Even though the Tigers had at least one base runner in seven innings, they managed just single runs in the firth and seventh.
“We just couldn’t finish off rallies,” Mainieri said.
LSU threatened with two out in the first as Alex Bregman and Katz drew consecutive walks, but Raph Rhymes flied to right.
The Tigers loaded the bases with two out in the third, but Rhymes hit a soft liner to second base.
They finally scored in the fifth as Andrew Stevenson and Laird had consecutive one-out singles, and one out later, Katz singled home McMullen.
UNC pushed the lead to 4-1 on Skye Bolt’s RBI single in the top of the seventh, but LSU cut it to 4-2 in the bottom half when Bregman grounded into a double play with runners on the corners.
Thornton walked Ibarra leading off the eighth and left after having thrown a season-high 114 pitches. Chris McCue relieved and got Ty Ross to line to second before JaCoby Jones singled to left.
Pinch hitter Tyler Moore flied to left, then McCue hit McMullen loading the bases for Laird, who flied to left to finish 5-for-9 in the CWS.
With one out in the ninth Katz walked for the third time in the game, reaching base for the seventh time in the series. Rhymes flied to center as he finished 0-for-5 and stranded nine runners, and Ibarra struck out, giving McCue his second save.
“It’s pretty devastating right now,” Katz said. “For myself and the other seniors, this is it. This is our last run.
“We had expectations of winning it all, but overall, I have no regrets whatsoever. It was still the best baseball season of my life.”