LSU baseball’s season ends with heartbreaking loss to UNC in Chapel Hill Regional final

Senior Will Hellmers put in the best performance of his career, but it wasn't enough as LSU blew a late lead to UNC. PHOTO BY: LSU Athletics

LSU fought hard.

The Tigers proved time and time again this season that they had no quit in them. They came back from a 3-12 start in SEC play, an 8-0 deficit in the SEC semifinals and a 5-0 hole in an elimination game against Wofford.

They battled back from an early deficit to take the lead against North Carolina in the Chapel Hill Regional final, but they just couldn’t hold on this time as UNC tied up the game in the ninth and took the lead in the 10th to claim a 4-3 win.

“We held the trophy last year and I am equally proud of my team and our program today as I was that day,” LSU head coach Jay Johnson said. “Where we were in the middle of SEC play to right now is one of the most gratifying coaching years of my entire life and I love these guys.”

The Tigers were just two outs away from hosting a super regional, but now their season is over.

Senior pitcher Will Hellmers made it clear he didn’t want to play his final game as a Tiger in a loss. Hellmers put in the best performance of his career when LSU needed it most, but it wasn’t quite enough as the Tigers bats mustered just five hits.

“He’s an elite pitcher,” Johnson said. “If anybody in professional baseball is paying attention they’ll sign Will Hellmers.”

He came in when the team still trailed 2-1 early and there were already two runners on base, but he didn’t let that phase him. Hellmers went 5.2 innings and allowed just two hits and two walks. Most crucially, he didn’t allow a single run. He came into the game with LSU trailing, but wouldn’t leave until the Tigers held a one-run lead.

“[Hellmers] is probably the best example of what we’re all about, what being a man is all about,” Johnson said. “I’m certainly proud of him and proud of our team.”

It was a shaky start for LSU on defense. Starter Sam Dutton allowed three straight singles to start the game and was pulled without recording a single out. Javen Coleman came in and walked in the first run of the game in a four-pitch at-bat.

But Coleman was able to turn things around and force a groundball that Michael Braswell III, Steven Milam and Jared Jones turned into a double play. A fly out afterwards limited the damage after it looked like the Tigers were about to find themselves in a much larger hole.

The Tigers slowly got back into the game on run at a time over the next three innings. It started in the bottom of the first when Tommy White hit a leadoff single and Jones was hit by a pitch after a Milam strikeout to put two runners on. A wild pitch put the runners in scoring position before Josh Pearson hit a groundout that score white and cut the deficit in half.

LSU looked like it would surrender more runs in the top of the second when Coleman gave up two free bases before being pulled for Will Hellmers with just one out gone. Hellmers faced Vance Honeycutt with two runners on and struck him out in three pitches. He walked another batter afterwards, but another fly out stranded all three base runners and kept the score at 2-1.

“This team got hit in the face and got back up every single time, and I think that’s the most important part,” Hellmers said.

In the bottom of the second, Jake Brown hit the first pitch he saw from UNC starter Jason DeCaro out of the park to tie up the game. In the bottom of the third, Jones hit the first pitch he saw from UNC reliever Matthew Matthijs out of the park to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead. It was Jones’ second homer of the regional and 28th of the season.

After Hellmers allowed a single in the third inning, he retired 12 straight batters to get LSU to the seventh inning. Jay Johnson came out for a mound visit in the seventh inning after he allowed a single and the runner was advanced to second on a sac bunt, but Hellmers convinced Johnson to leave him in and he forced a groundout and a fly out to get out of the inning.

“Obviously, nobody wants to walk away with tears in their eyes and a broken heart, but it means a lot to me to just give us a chance,” Hellmers said. “And those four or five innings I threw, that’s all I was trying to do.”

Nate Ackenhausen came in for Hellmers in the eighth after he walked the leadoff batter and sent the next three Tar Heel batters back to the dugout. LSU’s ace Gage Jump came in for the ninth inning to try to put the game to rest for good.

Jump allowed a leadoff double to Gavin Gallaher to put the tying run in scoring position. It looked like Alex Madera laid down a perfect two-strike bunt, but White let it slowly roll foul and got the first out of the inning.

The savvy play from White wouldn’t keep the Tar Heels from getting back into the game though. Colby Wilkerson hit an RBI single to score the base runner and tie the game at 3-3.

Jump walked Honeycutt afterwards to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. A line out and a ground out gave LSU a chance to walk it off in the bottom of the ninth though.

Hayden Travinski got on base with a single with one out gone, but a deep fly out from Brown sent LSU down to its final out of the inning. Paxton Kling struck out swinging to force extra innings.

Jump got the first two outs of the tenth, but Brown couldn’t hold on to the third out and UNC again had the go ahead run in scoring position. Gallaher was intentionally walked and with a full count, Madera singled up the middle to give UNC the lead.

With two outs gone, Jones worked an eight-pitch at-bat to draw a walk. A pitch in the dirt put Jones in scoring position, but Josh Pearson flied out to end the game and LSU’s season.

UNC will now host West Virginia in the Chapel Hill Super Regional this weekend for a shot at an Omaha appearance. Game one of that series will start on Friday.

author avatar
Will Nickel

1 Comment

  1. On May 1st nobody gave Tigers a chance to win 40…
    now a rebuilding year with impressive 43 wins and finished strong. Bring on football.

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