LSU ain’t dead yet.
And neither is Paul Mainieri’s coaching career.
Both got a new lease on the season after a long, late Sunday where the Tigers faced elimination in two games but beat No. 2 seed Gonzaga 9-4 and No. 1 seed Oregon 4-1 to stay alive in the NCAA tournament.
“I told them they just won’t let me retire, they keep making me work,” said Mainieri. “I’m happy to do it though.”
The two wins set up one game, winner take all, Monday night against Oregon (39-15) again for the regional championship and the right to advance to the super regional later this week in Knoxville against Tennessee.
“I think it’s got the makings of a great game,” Mainieri said.
Basically senior AJ Labas returned to form on the mound in the first game and freshman Javen Coleman came out of nowhere to baffle some of the Pac 12’s best hitters to complete an amazing two-game sweep for the Tigers (37-23).
They’re now one win away from winning a regional on the road for the first time since 1989.
“Tonight was our night,” Mainieri said. “We were able to get their best hitters out when we had to.”
In the second game Dylan Crews hit his fourth home run of the regional while going 3-for-3 with two runs scored. He has reached based in 12 of his 14 at-bats.
But it was Gavin Dugas who broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth with a towering home run and was robbed of another in the sixth — he scored anyway, but his shot off the centerfield wall was ruled a triple and an error instead of an inside-the-parker when there was a slight bobble by the retrieving outfielder as Dugas ran through a stop sign rounding third base.
But the story was Coleman, a freshman who’d made only two starts, both in the midweek.
He didn’t start Sunday either.
Mainieri’s plan was to start Trent Vietmeier, who pitched the ninth inning of the first game, just to get one inning taken care of before turning it over to the bullpen.
Vietmeier did his job and, as Mainieri said. “It played out just like we had hoped.”
Even better, perhaps.
“I couldn’t have even dreamed that he (Coleman) would do as great as did,” Mainieri said.
Coleman (3-1) came up with clutch pitch after big pitch — the Ducks were 0-7 with runners in scoring position against him — while allowing just one run on three hits in six innings of work.
He didn’t allow a hit after the third inning and pitched into the eighth before closer Devin Fontenot came in after a lead off walk and finished the game
Neither team announced a starter for Monday’s game.
But considering it will be LSU’s fifth game in four days, Mainieri said, “We’re not on fumes in our bullpen. We’ve got some guys available. I think we’ve got a chance to go out and pitch competitively .
“We’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to piece it together. Somebody is going to have to step up and be the hero.”
Dugas went 3-for-4 and finished just a single shy of the cycle as he also doubled in the eighth inning.
But it was the round-the-bases “triple-error” that had the dugout buzzing — Dugas and Mainieri both referred to it as a home run regardless of what the official scorer ruled.
“He was motoring,” Mainieri said. “He was smelling that home run and he got it for us.
“I didn’t fell like we had a chance to win this tournament unless Gavin had a big game,” Mainieri said.
Despite holding Oregon hitless after the third inning, there were anxious moments.
After Oregon tied it 1-1 on a sacrifice fly for the first out in the third, the Ducks still had a runner on third with one out.
But Coleman struck out Pac-12 player of the year Aaron Zavala and got all-conference first baseman Gabe Matthews to ground out.
The meat of the Ducks’ powerful order went 1-for-11.
“From my vantage point it was just great pitches that he made,” Mainieri said. “Javen made some really great pitches there when we needed them the most.
“Those were the most critical times in the game. and were able to get their best hitters out.”
In the first game, Labas, who’d struggled in his last four starts, didn’t look much different to open the game. Gonzaga loaded the bases with no outs in the first on a double, a walk and a hit batter..
But Labas got out of that inning with only two runs and settled in to give up just two more before giving way to Vietmeier to pitch a perfect ninth inning.
Labas gave up six hits and, although not known as a strike out pitcher, tied a career high with eight while throwing 123 pitches.
LSU’s 2-run deficit didn’t last long.
LSU didn’t score in a 3-0 loss to Gonzaga to open the tournament on Friday. But the Tigers jumped on the Zags in the rematch for four in the first inning and two each in the second and third.
Zach Arnold hit a solo home run in the sixth.
After Dylan Crews and Zach Arnold led off the bottom of the first with singles, Tre Morgan had an RBI double and Gavin Dugas a 2-run triple to open LSU’s 12-hit attack. Dave Doughty added a sacrifice fly in the first for a 4-0 lead.
LSU got the lead off man on in the first five innings although some of it was negated by hitting into four double plays.
It didn’t matter.
LSU opened the second with back to back doubles by No. 9 hitter Alex Milazzo and Crews for a run, with Crews eventually scored another on a double-play grounder.
Jordan Thompson and Milazzo provided RBI ground outs in the third after Cade Doughty led off with a walk followed by Drew Bianco’s double.