The near four-decade career of LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri is potentially down to its final game after announcing last week he would retire after this season.
After 2,284 games in 39 years including the last 15 years at LSU, Mainieri’s career has been reduced to needing to stave off elimination after Friday’s 3-0 loss to second-seeded Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA regional at PK Park in Eugene, Oregon.
LSU (34-23) will try to avoid elimination Saturday at 3 p.m. against fourth-seeded Central Connecticut State, a 13-10 loser to top-seeded Oregon, at 3 p.m. The game being streamed by ESPN3 and broadcast locally by 98.1-FM.
It marked LSU’s first loss in an NCAA regional opener in 36 years. The Tigers, who equaled a season-high three errors, were also shutout for the fourth time this season.
“We didn’t come in here thinking we were just going to roll over everybody,” LSU freshman right fielder Dylan Crews said. “We knew we would have some scrappy teams here. We were expecting to win on the first day and obviously we didn’t. We have to flip the page like Coach Mainieri said, move on and hopefully pull out a win tomorrow.”
Gonzaga right-hander Alek Jacob – the West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year and second team All-American by Baseball America – more than lived up the billing with a four-hit shutout of LSU in which he threw 71 of 119 pitches for strikes. He pitched his second complete game of the season, the other being a no-hitter against Pepperdine, with one walk and nine strikeouts.
Jacob (8-1) pitched the eighth shutout of the season for Gonzaga, which faces Oregon at 9 p.m.
“I pitched in a regional my freshman year, but it wasn’t against a program like this,” Jacob said. “They’re a really successful program. They’re one of the biggest programs in the country. To be able to do this and give us a 1-0 a start to the regionals is really important. I knew coming in it was going to be one of the biggest games of my career. I just wanted to live up to it and I’m glad I could do that.”
Jacob grew stronger over the course of the game and held LSU hitless over the last 4.1 innings. He retired the last 13 consecutive batters, seven with strikeouts. Relying on 70% fastballs that topped out at between 84-85 miles per hour, along with a slider and circle-change-up, he got the late-swinging Tigers to fly out or pop up 12 times on the night.
“You’ve got to give the kid a lot of credit, I admire the kid,” Mainieri said. “He’s not a kid that’s got a great arm or is a big pro prospect. He’s found a way to get the job done. It’s not a traditional hard-throwing guy with good stuff. The kid gets the most out of his ability and gets the job done. You have to give him a lot of credit.”
LSU ace Landon Marceaux (6-6) suffered the loss in an all-too-familiar script. The right-handed junior allowed three runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and three walks. In 5.2 innings, Marceaux threw more than 100 pitches (101, 59 for strikes) in a game for the fifth time this season.
In his last four starts in which the Tigers are 1-3, they’ve scored two runs in support of Marceaux.
“It (the game plan) was to get the ball over the plate and let them ground out and get themselves out,” Marceaux said. “I was a little erratic with my command. I got behind in counts and they were able to get a little more confidence on their swings on the ball. I did the best that I could. I kept us in the game and unfortunately we couldn’t pull it out.”
LSU’s best scoring opportunity against Jacob came in the top of the fourth when Crews led off with a triple to left-center field.
The Tigers loaded the bases when Cade Doughty drew a walk and Will Safford was hit by a pitch, but Giovanni DiGiacomo drove a pitch to deep center field that Gonzaga’s Guthrie Morrison tracked down on the warning track for the third out.
“We didn’t have many chances but when we did, we just couldn’t capitalize and that was the story of the game,” Mainieri said. “Landon pitched his heart out. They were scrappy offensively. They were difficult to strike out and they put some balls in play when they needed to and scratched a couple of runs across.”
Gonzaga (33-17) continually applied pressure against Marceaux. The Zags finished the night with eight hits, two each by Morrison, Brett Harris, Grayson Sterling and Ernie Yake.
The Zags, who stranded 10 runners, had base runners on in each inning, scoring twice in the second and adding another run in the sixth when Marceaux departed with two outs and two runners on. Reliever Jacob Hasty yielded a run-scoring single to Harris, who was thrown out at second trying to stretch his hit into a double.
Hasty, Trent Vietmeier and Ty Floyd combined to pitch the final 2.1 innings of the game. They allowed one hit, four walks and four strikeouts.
LSU recorded the first of its two double plays to quell a threat in the first inning. But Marceaux couldn’t keep Gonzaga off the scoreboard in the second when Sterling tripled to lead off the inning and scored on an RBI single from Morrison.
Following a walk to Mason Marenco that loaded the bases, Marceaux got back-to-back strikeouts before lead-off batter Yake made it 2-0 with a run-scoring single to right.
“We can’t hang our heads,” Marceaux said. “We have an early game and look forward to tomorrow.”