Tigers’ season ends with 4-3 loss in super regional
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
LSU’s magic carpet ride of a late-season run had at least one more rally in its bones after all, but it still wasn’t enough to hold off the unrelenting Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina.
The Tigers, frustrated throughout the game by opportunities left by the wayside, finally broke through to pull even in the top of the ninth. However, leaving the bases loaded with a chance to storm into the lead proved fatal.
Michael Paez chopped a Hunter Newman curveball over third baseman Chris Reid’s head and down the line for a walk-off single to lift Coastal Carolina to a 4-3 win to sweep the Baton Rouge Super Regional and advance to the College World Series for the first time in program history.
“They play hard and they’re good kids and they deserved it over us,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “They played better than we did. They did everything better than we did. They outcoached us; they outplayed us; and they were just hungrier than we were all weekend.
“They get the trip to Omaha and we get to put the bats away.”
Newman wiggled out of a tight spot of his own to give LSU a chance to tie the game in the ninth. He intentionally walked the bases loaded after an error began the frame, and popped up Cameron Pearcey and froze pinch hitter Tyler Chadwick on a wicked curve to leave them that way.
Then LSU, which had left the tying and go-ahead runs in the third, seventh and eighth innings, finally drew even with the help of what had to be some Alex Box Stadium magic.
Cole Freeman began the ninth with an harmless grounder to second that ate up Pearcey. He then moved to second on a wild pitch before Antoine Duplantis worked a walk. Jake Fraley then laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Freeman scored on yet another E4 as Fraley barrel rolled over Pearcey at the first-base bag.
That set up a golden opportunity to take the lead with the capacity crowd reaching a fever pitch and All-American CCU closer Mike Morrison unavailable after throwing 60 pitches Saturday.
“I think it set everything up,” Mainieri said of failing to take the lead in the ninth. “They got out of the inning tied with a chance to win, and they took advantage of it.”
CCU coach Gary Gilmore elected to walk Greg Deichmann intentionally to load the bases, and reliever Bobby Holmes struck out pinch hitter Brody Wofford and got Beau Jordan to fly to left on the first pitch to leave the bases loaded.
“It’s destiny for us,” Gilmore said. “Everyone put us to bed. We wiggled out of every jam. Our kids are resilient.”
Coastal Carolina’s well-known penchant for the long ball told the tale in Saturday’s opener, but Gary Gilmore’s club broke out the small ball and used heady baserunning to jump ahead early against Jared Poche’.
Anthony Marks led off the game with a slow chopped wide of first base that turned into an infield hit when both Cole Freeman and Greg Deichmann went for it and nobody covered the bag. He then moved to second on a deep fly to center, advanced to third on a dirt ball and scored on a wild pitch third strike. G.K. Young added a two-out RBI single to put the Chants ahead 2-0 early.
“There’s nothing more frustrating to me then when we play poor fundamentals,” Mainieri said of LSU’s sloppy start. “If we played more fundamentally sound, I think we’d be playing tomorrow. I’m the one who takes responsibility for that.”
LSU had chances against CCU right-hander Alex Cunningham, but the Tigers just couldn’t seem to get the big hit then they needed it. Freeman’s RBI double in the third pulled LSU within a run, and Antoine Duplantis’ double chased him to third base with one out with the Nos. 2-3-4 hitters in the order due up.
The crowd rose in unison for the first time, but sat down disappointed as Fraley popped to short and Robertson fouled out to the first baseman.
This began a trend that’d continue all night, with LSU finishing 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position en route to stranding 12 runners — eight of which came in the games final three innings.
“Clutch hitting is a big, big part of the game,” Mainieri said. “We’ve gotten so many clutch hits throughout the year at critical times and that’s why we were in the position we were in.”
“Just got to top you cap to him,” Fraley said of Cunningham. “He made some good pitches. But at the same time we didn’t put the greatest swings on balls in certain situations.”
Poche’ steadied the ship from there, stranding a runner in scoring position in the second and third inning. He didn’t record a clean inning all night, but in typical Poche’-fashion, the big left-hander did his finest work with runners on.
In what may be his final appearance at Alex Box Stadium, Poche’ allowed three earned runs through 5.1 gutty innings of work.
“It’s tough to handle,” Poche’ began, “but at the end of the day somebody had to lose, and unfortunately it was us.”
For LSU, it’s a sour end to what will still be remembered as an improbably run to being a national seed with the honor of hosting a super regional in the first place. Breaking in eight news everyday starters will pay dividends in the form of a more veteran club that returns in 2017.
But Mainieri, sitting next to Fraley and Poche’, one confirmed signing professional and the latter likely to do the same, wasn’t interested in looking forward. Not yet, at least.
“I’m not really thinking about next year right now, quite frankly,” Mainieri said. “I hurt for the guys that aren’t going to be in the program.”