LSU junior Giovanni DiGiacomo was hitless in seven trips to the plate in two NCAA regional games. It was also his miscalculation on a Central Connecticut State ball hit to center field that fell for a single that helped open the door for a five-run inning Saturday.
Despite those shortcomings, DiGiacomo was the center of a postgame celebration after he delivered a bases-loaded walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning, lifting the third-seeded Tigers to a 6-5 walk-off NCAA Regionals victory over the fourth-seeded Blue Devils at PK Park in Eugene, Oregon.
“It’s kind one of those things where if you succeed three out of 10 times, you’re a great hitter in baseball,” DiGiacomo said. “You can’t let those at bats carry over into defense or carry over to the next at bat as well. Just being able to stay level-headed.”
The fifth walk-off win of the season for LSU, which had gone six innings without scoring until DiGiacomo’s game-winning hit, enabled the Tigers (35-23) to extend their season another day and the career of their Hall of Fame coach Paul Mainieri.
LSU faces another elimination game at 5 p.m. Sunday against Gonzaga, a 7-3 loser to Oregon late Saturday night. Junior AJ Labas is expected to get the start on the mound for the Tigers.
“We get to play another day and take it one game at a time,” Mainieri said. “I’m just happy I get to keep working.”
Freshman right fielder Dylan Crews (3 for 4, 2 RBIs) also starred in his team’s victory. He hit a pair of solo homers, including leading off the bottom of the first, to provide a big lift for a team that was the victim of a four-hit shutout in Friday’s 3-0 setback against Gonzaga.
Freshman first baseman Tre’ Morgan went 2 for 5 with an RBI and designated hitter Zach Arnold was 3 for 4 and was also hit by a pitch.
After stranding two runners in the ninth inning LSU, which finished with 13 hits, loaded the bases in the 10th. CCSU reliever Jake Neuman hit Gavin Dugas with a one-out pitch, gave up a single to Arnold and then Drew Bianco walked on a full-count pitch.
That brought DiGiacomo to the plate. At that point, he was 0 for 7 (including 0 for 3 vs. Gonzaga) in his first 18 innings of regional play and unable to get the ball out of the infield against CCSU pitching including a pair of strikeouts.
This time, though, he was able to extend his at bat against Neuman by fouling off four consecutive pitches until making contact on a 2-2 offering to drive in Dugas with the winning run.
“I was just trying to get a hold of one and get it out of the infield in that situation and make sure we get that guy in to score,” DiGiacomo said. “I was fortunate enough to get that pitch and stay through it. I’m glad I got that opportunity.”
LSU senior closer Devin Fontenot (4-2) picked up the win in relief with a spotless 10th inning, picking up two strikeouts. But it was the performance of freshman reliever Garrett Edwards that kept the game tied between the third until the ninth by hurling a career-high five scoreless innings. He allowed two hits, struck out four and didn’t walk a batter in a 62-pitch outing, the second most pitches he’s thrown this season.
“We couldn’t have won without the job he did today,” Mainieri said of Edwards. “Five shutout innings against some really good hitters. Just a tremendous job.”
Mainieri gave credit to his youngest son Tommy for making the suggestion to move Crews from third in the lineup back to the lead-spot where he batted for the first 23 games of the season. To accommodate the move, Mainieri moved Morgan from first to third in the batting order, inserted Arnold into the starting lineup at designated hitter batting fifth ahead of Bianco who didn’t play in Friday’s opener.
“I was struggling putting a lineup together this morning,” Mainieri said. “I didn’t sleep at all, I thought about it all night. I thought we needed to shake things up a bit. Tommy made the suggestion about going back to what I did at the beginning and put Crews at the top of the order. I thought Dylan might lead off the game with an extra base hit, maybe even get into one and get us going and lo and behold, that’s exactly what he did. He crushed that ball to start the game and kind of loosened up our whole team.”
CCSU (28-15) also relied on superb relief pitching that kept LSU scoreless over a six-inning stretch after the Tigers tied the game at 5-all with three runs in the third inning.
Dylan Sabia worked a scoreless three innings in relief of starter Andrew Braun, surrendering only two hits with two strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter, until LSU finally broke through against Neuman (5-1).
After emerging into the team’s second-best pitcher over the last month of the season, Ma’Khail Hilliard was given the responsibility of helping the Tigers keep their season alive.
With the exception of one inning, the former Central High standout fared very well.
In three of his four innings of work, Hilliard kept CCSU scoreless on one hit. But it was what the Blue Devils did in the second that enabled them to rally from a 2-0 deficit and take a 5-2 lead on five runs on five hits in the second inning.
Crews helped LSU answer with its three-run third, hitting his second straight solo homer – his 14th of the year – and Bianco capped the inning by driving an 0-2 pitch into left field for a two-run double that tied the game when Morgan and Arnold each scored.
“It was very important for us to kind of flip the page,” Crews said after the loss to Gonzaga. “Having this win is a good momentum booster for tomorrow. We’re feeling good. We’ve got to come out tomorrow, flip the page and do what we do best.”