Last Modified: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 11:59 PM
OMAHA, Neb. — Mason Katz, leading hopefully off first base, slumped to his knees when the third strike got past teammate Christian Ibarra.
It was over.
Geaux … home?
Katz buried his head in his hands and just slumped there, motionless, as the North Carolina dugout poured out and past him to celebrate the Tar Heels’ 4-2 victory that eliminated LSU from the Tigers’ first College World Series trip in four years.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this for LSU — the second team and the first of the three remaining national seeds (No. 4) to be sent packing.
Katz didn’t move for several moments.
“It’s pretty devastating right now,” Katz said after finally hauling himself up and off the field at TD Ameritrade Park. “This one stings … we had expectations of winning it all.”
Not this year.
“Right to the end, I thought we were going to get it going and pull it out,” Katz said.
What gave him that idea is anybody’s guess. Nothing much went right for them.
The Tigers head home with three runs to show for two games here and, while they managed 10 hits and clogged the base paths much of the game Tuesday, most of them were wasted while going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranding 13 base runners in an elusive search for the timely hit.
“It was a very frustrating game,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We had so many opportunities and just couldn’t come through with the big hit.
“We got guys on base and just couldn’t come through with the hits that we needed. We didn’t play our best out here. We know that. We’re disappointed in that.”
Katz had LSU’s only two RBIs of the trip by adding an RBI single in the fifth to the solo home run he hit in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to UCLA.
The Tigers’ other run Tuesday came on a buzz-killer when they got runners at the corners with no outs after Sean McMullen doubled and Mark Laird singled. But All-American Alex Bregman hit into a double play. It got a run home while deflating the opportunity for a big inning. The Tigers got the lone run despite getting three of their hits in the inning.
Raph Rhymes had a particularly frustrating day, making the last out in four innings while stranding eight runners, four in scoring position.
Bregman, the national freshman of the year, finished Omaha 0-for-8.
LSU loaded the bases in the eighth and got its hottest hitter to the plate. But Laird, who went 6-for-10 in the series, lined out to left field for the final out.
“We are certainly happy to have survived this one,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said.
North Carolina (58-11), the No. 1 seed, stayed alive and will play another elimination game Thursday against the loser of Tuesday night’s North Carolina State-UCLA game.
LSU is left to ponder, What if?
North Carolina’s Brian Holbertson hit a two-run home run in the first inning after Colin Moran’s two-out single. Moran also drove in another run when his ground ball toward Katz hit the first-base bag and bounced over his head.
The Tar Heels started their usual closer, freshman Trent Thornton, and he responded with seven-plus inning using a career-high 114 pitches.
“I thought at times we did OK against him,” Mainieri said. “We just couldn’t capitalize. We left a ton of runners on base.”
“He wasn’t really doing anything special,” Katz said. “He was just mixing it up.”
LSU starter Cody Glenn lasted two-plus innings before Brent Bonvillain came on. Bonvillain gave the Tigers 41⁄3 innings, not allowing a run until the seventh.
“He kept us in it,” Mainieri said. “He gave us a chances.”
Chances, it turned out, weren’t LSU’s problem. The Tigers had plenty of them.
“I thought we’d do better,” Mainieri said.
Instead, the winningest team in LSU history goes home from Omaha empty-handed.
“You analyze the year,” Mainieri said. “You realize all the great things you did accomplish and just getting to Omaha is a tremendous accomplishment.
“But right now it doesn’t feel like it. We went two-and-out and we have to deal with that.”