LSU rallies late, beats Oregon to claim NCAA regional
Surprising Tigers headed to super regionals
At this rate LSU’s Paul Mainieri may reach full retirement age before actually retiring.
The 63-year-old coach’s team just won’t let him hang it up.
The Tigers rallied late with three resourceful runs in the eighth and held on even later into the night to edge Oregon 9-8 and claim the Eugene regional and advance to the super regional round of the NCAA tournament.
It capped a remarkable weekend for the Tigers, who had to win four in a row over the last three days, eliminating all three other teams in the regional.
It was so tense it had Mainieri pacing more than usual in the dugout.
And it certainly wasn’t easy.
But the Tigers hit three home runs — two by Gavin Dugas, one by Drew Bianco — and piece-mealed together just enough pitching to sneak out of Eugene with the victory.
“This is awesome,” said Dugas, the regional MVP who also had a home run in Sunday night’s 4-1 victory over the Ducks.
“They’ve been counting us out all year … But we don’t want coach to retire yet. We’re going to go as far as we can.”
Next stop is a return trip to Knoxville for their 15th NCAA super regional — to face a Tennessee team that swept them in the regular season, two of the three losses on walk-offs.
After bombing their way into the late innings, LSU manufactured three runs in the eighth after Gavin Dugas walked and Cade Doughty doubled on a chopper over the first baseman’s head to put runners at second and third with no outs.
Bianco struck out, but when Cade Beloso’s grounded to first, Dugas got just under the tag on the throw home to tie the game at 7-7.
Then it got interesting in a cat-and-mouse game between the coaches.
Mainieri was going to have Jordan Thompson bunt Doughty home on a safety squeeze.
Oregon coach Mark Wasikowski suspected as much and had a play on to try to foil it.
After Thompson squared around but took ball one, Mainieir took the bunt play off.
Oregon closer Kolby Somers then made a half-dozen or so “pickoff” throws to first base even though Beloso hasn’t attempted a steal all season. In reality, according to Wasikowski, he was just trying to get the Tigers to tip their hand.
But Somers tossed over one too many times, finally making his move as the first baseman had taken off toward the plate.
Somers had no choice but to throw to him well down the line toward home.
“When you make a move you can’t throw to a base unoccupied (by a fielder),” Mainieri said.
So a balk scored Doughty with the go-ahead run for the Tigers and they got what turned out to be an decisive insurance run when Thompson RBI single for a 9-7 lead.
It was the fifth lead change of what Mainieri called “such wild game.”
LSU ace Landon Marceaux, the hard-luck 3-0 loser in the 30 regional opener, pitched the final 2 1/3 innings and picked up the win.
But, as usual the Tigers made the ninth inning interesting as a tough-hop single past third baseman opened the door for one Oregon run, then the Ducks got the potential tying run to third and the go-ahead run on first with two outs.
Closer Devin Fontenot was warmed up in the bullpen, but even during a long mound visit with Marceaux, Mainieri never considered pulling his ace.
“I just couldn’t take the ball from him,” Mainieri said. “He’s been such a competitor all year. He really wanted to pitch tonight. I really debated a lot on whether to use him. I very rarely have used a guy like that on two days rest.
“He was pleading with me the last couple of days.”
Marceaux got a fly out to right field to finally end it.
“I might have given a bazilllion people some heart attacks,” Marceaux said. “But I got it done.”
“That was going to be his last batter,” Mainieri said. “I’m glad he got him out because I would have hated to take him out.”
He no such qualms while mixing and matching the rest of the staff to get to Marceaux.
Senior Ma’Khail Hilliard started but, per the plan, went only one scoreless inning before Mainieri trotted out four consecutive freshmen for short stints before turning to Marceaux with two outs in the eighth.
Ty Floyd pitched one inning and gave up two runs that tied the game at 2-2.
Michael Fowler pitched two innings, giving up a 2-run homer in the third to Aaron Zavala and an RBI single in the fourth that put the Ducks up 5-2.
LSU got two runs back in the fourth when Dugas, who had a 2-run homer in the first, hit a solo shot in the fourth. Bianco followed with a single, stole second and eventually scored following a pair of wild pitches.
Will Helmers gave the Tigers two scoreless innings and Bianco’s 2-run homer in the sixth put the Tigers up 6-5.
It didn’t last long.
Thompson’s error in the seventh set the table for Kenyon Yovan’s 2-run homer in the seventh off of the last of the freshman parade, Garrett Edwards.
That’s when Mainieir went to Marceaux. trailing 7-6.
“We’re just going to keep battling, give it everything we’ve got,” said Marceaux. “It means the world to move on (to the super regional) after losing the first game. I’m so happy for the guys, happy for coach.
“I’m excited we get another week of baseball.”