“We had good hitters up at the plate and we just couldn’t cash in and get the hits when we needed to.” PAUL MAINIERI, LSU coach
OMAHA, Neb. — Everyone knew home runs would be hard to come by in TD Ameritrade Park during the College World Series.
But it was a lack of singles, doubles and triples with runners on base that really did in LSU as it finished 0-2 after a 4-2 loss to North Carolina on Tuesday afternoon.
The Tigers had 11 hits, but stranded 13 runners two days after it had just five hits in a 2-1 loss to UCLA.
“Today was a very frustrating day because we had so many opportunities,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We had good hitters up at the plate and we just couldn’t cash in and get the hits when we needed to.”
Leadoff hitter Sean McMullen had two hits and No. 2 hitter Mark Laird had three hits, but the heart of the order wasn’t able to take full advantage.
No. 3 hitter Alex Bregman was 0 for 4 and finished 0-for-8 in the series.
Clean-up hitter Mason Katz, who homered for the Tigers’ only run Sunday, had to be patient as the Tar Heels pitched around him and walked him three times. In his other two plate appearances he had an RBI single and beat out on infield hit.
But having Katz reach base five times didn’t reap many dividends for LSU because No. 5 hitter Raph Rhymes never made UNC pay.
Rhymes came up with runners on first and second and two out in the first and flied to right. He came up with the bases loaded in the third and hit a soft pop to second. He came up with runners on first and second and two out in the fifth and flied to right.
He came up with a runner on first and two out in the seventh and lined to center. He came up with a runner on first and one out in the ninth and flied to center.
“In these games,” Mainieri said, “your best players have to be the ones that step up for you.”
In addition to Bregman going hitless, Rhymes was 0 for 9 and No. 6 hitter Christian Ibarra was 0 for 7 in the series.
“For some reason, we just couldn’t put good swings on balls,” Mainieri said.
Mainieri was reluctant to blame the Tigers offensive struggles on TD Ameritrade, which yielded just one homer (Katz’s) in the first four games. Nonetheless, he said the venue could have been a factor.
“That ballpark itself plays so big that the hitters don’t go up to the plate with a lot of confidence because they’re worried that if they hit a ball in the air it’s going to be an out,” Mainieri said. “We dwelled on that so much all week that I’m afraid I took the aggressiveness out of them.”
LSU stranded 20 base runners in the two games and never scored multiple runs in an inning. Katz’s three hits were the only ones in the 29 at bats from the three through six hitters in the two games.
Both Bregman and Rhymes declined interview requests after the game.
“We had chances to get the job done and we didn’t,” McMullen said. “There’s no single person to blame. It’s just the way the game goes.”
Bregman batted with runners on the corners and none out in the seventh and hit into a double play. Though McMullen scored from third on the play to get the Tigers within 4-2, that prevented a possible bigger inning.
Rhymes led the nation in hitting as a junior last season when he batted a school-record .431. His productivity this season wasn’t nearly as good, but he was still first team all-Southeastern Conference and finished with a .331 batting average.
“Raph’s just had an up-and-down season,” Mainieri said. “We’ve grown accustomed to him being so consistent. His year last year was off the charts.”
Rhymes, who hit into a double play with the tying run on base in the ninth inning Sunday, batted with nine runners on base Tuesday and none of them scored.
“I just felt so bad for the kid,” Mainieri said. “I know he’s going to blame himself for this and he has had an awesome, unbelievable career. I don’t want this to be his legacy.
“It really saddens me to think that people might judge his career on what he did these two games. That would be terrible. It hurts me that it ended this way for him.”