BATON ROUGE — Florida State was one of the “last four in” to the NCAA baseball tournament. But the Seminoles will be one of the last eight standing.
They were last seen, though, all tangled up in dogpile in LSU’s Alex Box Stadium and Omaha-bound after a two-out single by Drew Mendoza in the bottom of the 12th inning gave them a marathon 5-4 win that ended LSU’s season.
The Tigers, who couldn’t hold a 4-0 lead to lose Saturday’s game 6-4, battled back from a 4-1 deficit Sunday to force extra innings before falling again.
“It could have gone either way both games,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who ran to the field afterwards to console hard-luck losing pitcher Devin Fontenot, slumped to his knees in front of the mound after the winning run scored. “We both fought like cats and dogs all day. Florida State just did a little more than we did.”
Antoine Duplantis went 4-for-6 in his final game in The Box while driving in three of LSU’s four runs and scored twice, once with a solo home run. Josh Smith scored twice with two hits.
“Both these nights were tough,” Mainieri said. “Proud of our guys. They gave it all they had.”
Nobody more than Fontenot, who entered the game in the sixth inning and held the Seminoles hitless until the decisive 12th inning while throwing 96 pitches.
“What a warrior,” Florida State coach Mike Martin. “I’ll take two Fontenot’s every year.”
“He didn’t want to come out and I didn’t want to take him out,” Mainieri said.
Instead he rushed to console his sophomore at the end.
“He was devastated,” Mainieri said. “He feels like he lost the game for our team and I did not want him to feel that way.”
“That performance by Devin ... If we’d won that game, we’d be talking about that 15 years from now.”
Mainieri wasn’t sure if Fontenot would have come back out for a 13th inning.
“We were going to have to think about it,” he said.
But it never came to that.
After Mike Salvatore’s one-out single in the 12th, he advanced to second on a wild pitch that should have been handled and, after Fontenot’s 11th strike out of the game for the second out — against Reese Albert, who hit two home runs Saturday — Mendoza delivered the game winner on a 2-2 pitch.
Instead, the Tigers had to bemoan the missed opportunities before the extra innings, mostly a pair of base running miscues.
LSU’s Cade Beloso and Smith both teased with crowd in extra innings with near-home runs, one dying deep on the track, the other twisting just foul.
But it was the second time in the last four years that LSU had to watch a team’s walk-off victory lead to an opposing dogpile in their own stadium. Coastal Carolina did it in extra innings in 2016.
Florida State (41-21) advances to the College World Series where the retiring Martin will be the sentimental favorite to win his first national championship in his 17th Omaha appearance.
The odds will be with him. The last three teams to eliminate LSU from the NCAA tournament have gone on the win the national championship — Coastal Carolina in 2016, Florida in 2017 and Oregon State last year.
LSU missed several chances Sundays with its continued misadventures on the base paths.
LSU hadn’t scored more than a single run in any one inning of the series before pushing across two in the top of the eighth to tie the score 4-4.
But even that inning was a letdown of sorts as the second base-running blunder of the game short-circuited any further damage.
Smith and Duplantis sandwiched doubles around Giovanni DiGiacomo’s strike out to score one run and after an infield single by Daniel Cabrera had runners on the corners with one out.
Zach Watson tied the score with a single, but was thrown out trying to reach second for the second out.
Nothing more came of it, although Watson’s attempt was reasonable gamble.
“That was a hustle play,” Mainieri said of Watson’s gamble, which was close enough that it was reviewed on replay before being upheld. “He saw the ball get away and he went for it.”
Not so much on the other.
LSU other best chance came in the sixth when consecutive singles by Smith, DiGiacomo and Duplantis scored a run and a ground out put runners at second and third with one out.
But DiGiacomo, a freshman, strayed too far off third and was nailed by FSU catcher Matheu Nelson for the second out. The rally quickly fizzled, the buzz in the crowd quickly faded.
“Nobody’s perfect,” Mainieri said. “A lot of things happen during the course of the game. Major Leaguers are not perfect, certainly college players are not perfect.”
LSU once again had to go to the the relief corps early after Landon Marceaux gave up four runs on eight hits in 3.2 innings.
The Tigers got only a combined 5.2 innings out of their two starters as Cole Henry left Saturday’s game after two inning with a sore elbow.
LSU’s troubles began, as so many have, with a leadoff walk by Marceaux in the second.
The Seminoles eventually loaded the bases with no outs following a bunt single and a single.
LSU had a chance to get a double play at the plate on a ground ball to first, but catcher Saul Garza couldn’t hold on after making the tag for the Seminoles’ first run to score.
Matheu Nelson and Salvatore added back to back RBI singles for an early 3-0 FSU lead.