Thatcher Hurd shows his old self and LSU’s bats stay hot to beat UNC and force Monday final

LSU baseball jumped out to an early lead and held onto it late to force another game against UNC on Monday for the Chapel Hill Regional. PHOTO BY: LSU Athletics

LSU won it’s sixth straight NCAA Tournament elimination game, and it did it with a familiar face on the mound.

Thatcher Hurd hasn’t put together an appearance that lasted more than five innings all season. In fact, his last start that went more than five innings came in an elimination game for LSU last postseason in game three of the College World Series against Florida.

Hurd went 5.2 innings against North Carolina and allowed six hits, two runs and no walks while striking out six batters. It was the exact performance LSU needed in an 8-4 win over UNC that sends the Chapel Hill Regional to a Monday final. LSU survived a late surge from the Tar Heels to hold onto the win.

“Talent and experience wins,” LSU head coach Jay Johnson said. “Our players have talent, they’re experienced. We’ve been in games like that today and have come through and when that happens, our players should draw a lot of confidence from that. I have confidence in them, just like I had confidence in giving the ball to Thatcher tonight.

Hurd sent the Tar Heels down in order in the top of the first to bring the LSU offense out. After a groundout and a strikeout, Jared Jones was walked, and Josh Pearson came up to bat. Pearson was first pitch swinging and hammered the ball out of the park for a two-RBI homer that gave LSU a lead it’d never let go of.

“I just believe in [Hurd], I knew the stage he would be in control of himself,” Johnson said.

Hurd again sent the Tar Heels three up, three down in the second and third innings to give LSU’s offense a chance to add to its lead. Steven Milam hit a one out single and Jones drew another walk to put two runners on. Pearson flied out but Michael Braswell III hit an RBI single to add another run to the board.

Hurd found himself in trouble for the first time in the fourth inning. With two outs gone, Parks Harber doubled, and Anthony Donfrio singled to bring him home. Another single followed, but Hurd recorded a strikeout against Luke Stevenson to end the inning.

LSU’s offense responded though in the bottom of the fourth with a four-run inning that blew the game open. Hayden Travinski hit a leadoff double and a pair of walks followed to load up the bases for Tommy White. White delivered with an RBI single, and Milam followed with a two-RBI single. Jones drew his third walk of the game to load up the bases and Pearson helped bring home another run with a groundout that made it 7-1.

Hurd forced another three up, three down inning in the top of the fifth and Travinski hit a solo homer in the bottom of the frame. The game looked like it was out of reach for UNC, but its offense responded over the next few innings to make the Tigers sweat.

Hurd got the first two outs of the sixth inning before allowing a double to Harber. A wild pitch let Harber come home and a pair of singled put two more runners on. Justin Loer came in and walked the first batter he faced before Fidel Ulloa came in with the bases loaded. Ulloa struck out Gavin Gallaher to get out of the inning though.

LSU had a chance to add some insurance runs in the sixth when Milam and Jones singled, but a pop out and line our ended the opportunity. In the seventh inning, UNC cut into the Tigers’ lead once again.

Ulloa walked a pair of batters and recorded a strikeout before being pulled for Kade Anderson. Anderson strikeout one batter, but once again UNC was able to get on the board when the Tigers needed just one more out. Anderson hit a batter with a pitch to load the bases and gave up a two-RBI single to Donofrio to make it an 8-4 game. All four of UNC’s runs came with two outs gone.

In the eighth inning, Anderson found himself in a jam and LSU almost surrendered more runs with two outs gone. A single started the inning before Anderson recorded two straight strikeouts, but after walking a batter to put two runners on Gavin Guidry came in to pitch.

Guidry nearly gave up a three-run homer to Vance Honeycutt, but the ball looped foul. Afterwards, Guidry struck out Honeycutt to get out of the inning with the four-run lead still intact.

Guidry allowed a single to start the ninth inning before getting a fly out. He walked another batter to put two runners on and a wild pitch brought them to third and second. Another walk loaded the bases and put the tying run at the plate.

Guidry loaded up a 3-0 count to the next batter he faced, but battled back for the strikeout to send the Tar Heels to their final out. Guidry forced a fly out from Gallaher to end the game and set up a Monday final.

“North Carolina is an elite team, so you’ve just got keep playing,” Johnson said. “You just have to keep playing. I have a saying that everything is training for something. We’re trained and ready for tomorrow.”

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Will Nickel

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