Tigers down Rice 4-2 in winner’s bracket contest
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
With a spot in the regional championship on the line, Alex Lange wasn’t about to let a little shower wash away another one of his white outs.
The right-hander looked and threw superbly decked out in all white everything, but the rains again came and halted play with LSU clinging to a two-run lead in the seventh. Only this time Lange weathered the storm and returned the 56-minute delay to keep dealing.
“I was pretty locked in,” Lange said. “It was never even really a question if I was going to come out. There really wasn’t a discussion if I was coming out so I just tried to stay locked in.”
From that point on Lange retired eight of the final 11 men he faced to complete eight-plus masterful innings of two-run ball, the latest in a unblemished career of postseason gems that sent him off the mound amid yet another thunderous standing ovation from the paying customers.
Lange’s brilliance and a scoreless ninth from closer Hunter Newman made a bizarre inside-the-park grand slam way back in the first inning hold up as LSU squeaked past Rice 4-2 on Sunday night to move within one victory of advancing to another super regional under Paul Mainieri.
“I’ve run out of superlatives to say about him,” Mainieri said of his ace. “He’s just an amazing competitor. Obviously he has talent, but there’s something that makes him different from other people, and that’s his competitive zeal.”
“That’s what you expect from big-time players,” Jake Fraley added rather matter-of-factly. “That’s what we expect from Alex Lange.”
The entirety of LSU’s offensive production can be attributed to a fit of wildness from Rice ace Jon Duplantier and an Alex Box ground rule that also seems to pop up this time of year.
The right-hander walked three of the game’s first four hitters to load the bases for Greg Deichmann. That’s where things got crazy on what initially looked to be at most a two-run double down the first-base line.
“We did a great job of making him throw a lot of pitches and the guys in front of me drew key walks to load the bases,” Deichmann said. “I was just trying to lift a fly ball to get the run in, but he threw me a curveball and I was able to turn on it and hit it down the line.”
Rice right fielder Charlie Warren reached down toward the baseball pinned beneath the bench before hoisting his arms skyward, and Deichmann never stopped running as his bases-loaded chopper bounded over the bag at first and down the line toward the LSU bullpen.
Warren’s attempted retrieval triggered an Alex Box Stadium ground rule that seems to always come up this time of year, and after the umpires conferred, it was ruled an inside-the-park grand slam. And just like Tyler Moore in the 2014 regional against Houston or Chris Reid earlier this season, the umpires correctly ruled it a live ball and thus an inside-the-park home run.
“We got fortunate because their outfielder reached for the ball,” Mainieri explained, reiterating that he explicitly explains the ground rule in question to every opposing coach and umpire that comes to the Box. “The rules are very clearly stated that if you do that, the ball is live.”
Turns out that’d be all Lange would need. He allowed just one hit through the first four innings before Grayson Lewis turned on an inside heater and belted it clear over the left field bleachers for a solo shot that cut the LSU lead to 4-1.
Then the rain started falling in the sixth, and the tarp came out immediately following Ford Proctor’s ringing RBI double that brought the Owls within two runs with just one out in the frame.
Lange returned from the delay and promptly walked the tying run on base. The game felt as if it hung in the balance with Connor Tekyl and Lewis coming up, but Lange fanned both with filthy spiked curveballs tumbling down in the zone.
“That’s my go-to pitch, so I couldn’t just put it in my back pocket,” Lange said. “I had to continue to throw it and we were successful with it.”
He then cruised through the seventh and eighth with a hit batsmen being the only batter to reach. He finished the evening with 10 strikeouts while allowing just five hits and a pair of free passes to earn his third NCAA Tournament win in four career starts.
“I thought Lange threw the best curveball that we’ve seen all year,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said. “We were the victim of a guy throwing a really great game.”
Rice will play Southeastern in an elimination game at 2 p.m. tomorrow with the winner slated to take on LSU at 7 p.m. If LSU should lose that game, there’d be a winner-take-all contest Tuesday. Mainieri said he’ll start freshman right-hander Caleb Gilbert tomorrow regardless of opponent.