Regional Championship Game set for 4 p.m. Tuesday
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
There will be a decisive contest for all the marbles in the Baton Rouge Regional on Tuesday afternoon.
Rice ensured as much by winning twice Monday, the second a decisive 10-6 victory that prevented previously-unbeaten LSU from advancing into the super regional.
The Owls battered Tiger pitching for 13 hits and closer Glenn Otto fired the game’s final 4.1 innings of lights-out relief to quell any LSU push and force a winner-take-all game set for 4 p.m. at Alex Box Stadium.
“Obviously a tough loss for us tonight,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We just had a tough time stopping the … We just couldn’t stop them in the middle innings. Hopefully tomorrow will be a different story.”
The Tigers had 15 hits in their own right but were unable to consistently cash in on a bevy of opportunities. LSU went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and 5-for-22 with runners on base, totaling a whopping 12 men left stranded.
LSU had a chance to swing its way back into the game in the eighth after Jake Fraley took Otto deep for a two-run blast that cut the deficit to four. Kramer Robertson and Greg Deichmann followed with singles sandwiched around a force out, but pinch hitter Brody Wofford popped to left to end the threat.
“Obviously he’s got a really good breaking ball,” Robertson said of Otto, who fanned five after working in Sunday’s game. “He was able to throw it for strikes and get out of innings. He kept us off balance.”
Rice, fresh off a 15-0 shellacking of Southeastern earlier in the day, jumped on LSU starter Caleb Gilbert and chased him after a three-run second inning.
The Owls tagged the freshman for three runs on four hits and a walk, and it would have been worse if Antoine Duplantis and Cole Freeman didn’t throw out a fourth runner at the plate to the inning.
“I didn’t plan on our starting pitcher only pitching two innings and giving up three runs,” Mainieri said. “Obviously that was not part of the plan. It forced us to go to the pen a lot earlier than we wanted to and it’s no secret who the main guys are for us coming out of the bullpen.”
Deichmann stayed red hot and got LSU on the board in the fourth. He singled home a run to cut the deficit to 3-1, but LSU left the bases loaded in that inning and Tristan Gray re-extended the lead by taking Riley Smith deep and gone to right for a solo home run in the bottom of the frame.
The Tigers broke through and chased Rice starter Dane Myers in the top of the fifth. Fraley singled with one out, and Robertson turned on an inside heater and belted a two-run blast, his second of the season, to cut the deficit to one.
“I was able to put some good swings on some balls,” Robertson said. “It just wasn’t enough.”
Jordan Romero and Deichmann each drew lengthy walks before Beau Jordan lined out to deep center. Chris Reid then drew a walk and Mike Papierski walked on four pitches to force home the tying run.
But Rice, as it did following the run in the fourth, responded in kind with another three-run frame to retake the lead. Successive one-out singles off Smith got the inning going, and Ford Proctor’s sac fly to center put the Owls back on top.
LSU found itself in this same situation two years ago when Houston upended the Tigers twice in the regional championship after LSU won its first two games.
“We’re going to forget about what we didn’t do, but also learn from that,” said Fraley, who started on that 2014 club. “Just take what we need to from this game into the next one. We’re going to have a gameplan and try to go out and execute it tomorrow.”
Mainieri didn’t bring Jared Poche’ back on short rest against Houston in that regional, but he described starting the lefty Tuesday as a “possibility” while declining to reveal any kind of pitching plan for the winner-take-all game.
“I don’t know,” Mainieri said, asked if everyone besides Alex Lange would be available. “Haven’t thought about it yet.”
– An NCAA official confirmed that LSU will be the visiting team again Tuesday because the Owls have been the road team in more games than have LSU.
“It’s the NCAA rulebook,” Mainieri said. “It doesn’t seem quite fair, I don’t think. Seems like we kind of get penalized because we started out 2-0 and haven’t played as many games. I thought it was automatic that when you get to this point you flip flop, but that’s evidently not the case.”
– Austin Bain left the game in the eighth inning after Charlie Warren’s lined shot appeared to hit him in the face. The Box fell silent and scary moments ensued, but Bain was able to walk off under his own power and remained in the dugout for the remainder of the game.
“He seemed totally in control of himself after the game,” Mainieri said. “He was even in the team huddle. I haven’t talked to the trainer, but it seems we dodged a bullet there. It was a scary looking play, but thank God it looks like he’ll be all right.”
Bain tweeted the following after the game from his personal account:
I'm okay everyone! Thank y'all for checking. I'll be good to go we have a big game tomorrow
— Austin Bain (@Bain_07) June 7, 2016