LSU’s baseball team may have rolled over and played dead one too many times.
With an NCAA tournament bid still an uncertainty for the Jekyll and Hyde Tigers, they experienced one of their shortest stays ever in the SEC tourney on Tuesday’s opening day when they lost 4-1 to Georgia in the single-elimination round at Hoover (Ala.) Metropolitan Stadium.
One throwing error, one hanging change-up and a bunch of cold LSU bats doomed the ninth-seeded Tigers (34-22) losing to eighth-seed Georgia (31-23) which came into the tournament having lost 10 of its last 14 games including its last four league series.
Now, the Tigers wait until next Monday when they hope their strength of schedule (second toughest in Division 1) and their post-Georgia loss RPI of 24 will get them an NCAA tournament invite.
“It’s not a lot of fun to be at the mercy of the selection committee,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “When it’s a single elimination, one game and done, I don’t know that it should be held against you just for one game. I think the body of work over the year is probably more important.
“Our RPI speaks for itself. We played arguably the toughest or one of the top two or three toughest schedules in the country. We’ve done a lot of good things.”
Tuesday’s game wasn’t one of them, considering what was on the line.
The Tigers left eight men on base, including two in the top of first inning when it scored just one run after having the bases loaded and no outs, as well leaving the bases loaded in the eighth.
Those were LSU’s only two serious scoring threats with four Georgia pitchers (including three left-handers) led by freshmen Luke Wagner and Jaden Woods holding the Tigers to seven hits including just one in the final five inn innings.
“You want to come in here and make a statement,” LSU right fielder Dylan Crews said, “but Georgia came right after us. They were aggressive with their pitches, and we just couldn’t string together any hits with runners in scoring position.”
In the first inning, LSU first baseman Tre’ Morgan scored on third baseman Cade Doughty’s bases-loaded double-play grounder. Two batters later, center fielder Drew Bianco struck out to end the threat.
In Georgia’s half of the first, LSU starter Landon Marceaux gave up two hits in his first five pitches before getting a ground out and then walking a batter to load the bases.
Then, Doughty made a nice snag of a sharply hit grounder by Georgia designated hitter Riley King and fired a throw to LSU second baseman Collier Cranford to start a double play. But Cranford’s skidding one-hop throw to Morgan couldn’t be piucked by the fielding wizard and Georgia center fielder Ben Anderson scored.
After Marceaux walked another batter, Bulldogs’ right fielder Chaney Rogers raked a Marceaux change-up for bases-clearing three-run double and 4-1 lead that didn’t budge the rest of the game.
“They could have had a double play right there,” Rogers said, “but he (Morgan) didn’t get the scoop, and honestly it just turned around for us.
“When we got that one run, I felt like everyone relaxed. I know I relaxed in the on-deck circle and got up there, put a good swing on the ball. He (Marceaux) hung me one. The guy was a really good pitcher. You all saw after the first inning. I mean, he shoved on us. He punched out everybody.”
Marceaux shut out the Bulldogs the rest of the way, allowing nine hits, striking out nine and walking three. But for the ninth time in 11 SEC starts this season, LSU provided Marceaux with two runs or fewer offensive support. The Tigers couldn’t even sniff a comeback after Marceaux settled down.
“I got knocked in the mouth and gave up a 4 spot,” Marceaux said. “It’s just a blow that takes the breath out of you, and it shocks you. I felt horrible about that first inning. If I could take it back, I would.”
Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said afterward he wouldn’t have believed the final score was going to be 4-1 after the first inning, but he thinks the win earned the Bulldogs an NCAA tourney spot.
“I think we’re absolutely in,” Stricklin said. “I had said before this was virtually a play-in game. Us and LSU have the same records (13-17 SEC regular season).
“That being said, LSU deserves to be in. Their strength of schedule is No. 2 in the country. Their RPI is in the top 25, and they are definitely one of the top 64 teams in the country.”
Mainieri appreciated the endorsement, yet he now finds himself in a strange place.
“We’ve never lost on Tuesday here in Hoover,” Mainieri said. “Quite frankly, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to plan to do for the next several days.”
Extended swings in the batting cage might be a start.
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