LSU errs by not winning

Scooter Hobbs

Not much has gone right for LSU in the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.

From the moment second baseman Collier Cranford botched a double-play relay throw to first, which turned a potential scoreless bottom of the first into all the damage in a 4-1 loss to Georgia, it’s just been one thing after another.

The Tigers had no one but themselves to blame for leaving Hoover, Alabama, winless for the first time this century. They had eight more innings to overcome the early deficit and promptly wasted opportunity after opportunity

But, ironically, the worst thing that happened to LSU might have come when the Tigers were already back in Baton Rouge minding their own business a day after the Monday mishap.

Wednesday, the dreaded runner interference at second base reared it ugly head again.

It’s always been one of the most puzzling rules in baseball, a conundrum without an equitable solution.

LSU has run afoul of it before, most notably in the 2017 College World Series championship-round loss to Florida, but also in Skip Bertman’s last SEC Tournament in 2001.

The rule didn’t even need its most perplexing sub paragraph to bite the Tigers again, in absentia, Wednesday.

So let’s set the scene.

Tennessee, tied with Alabama in the bottom of the ninth, had runners at first and third with one out.

Ground ball to shortstop. Toss to the second baseman covering. Batter beats the potential inning-ending relay throw by a half step. Runner from third scores.

Tennessee’s rushes the field to celebrate a walk-off win.

But … not so fast.

It was ruled that the runner who was forced out at second interfered with the relay throw. Batter out. Inning over.

Alabama eventually won in the 11th.

Because there was already one out, the worst part of the rule never came up.

That’s the fine print that got LSU at least twice before.

Had there been no outs, the defensive team is not only awarded the double play, the runner who scored from third — a run that was being conceded when the defense started the double play attempt — is forced to go back to third.

In both memorable LSU tangles with the rule, the call was right — there was definitely interference, it’s just the way the rule is written in denying the run to score, the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime.

Not the umps’ fault.

In Wednesday’s incident, even though it was upheld by instant replay (big surprise, huh?) it didn’t look as if interference should have been called in the first place.

The base runner slid directly into the bag, as required, but his hand grazed the defensive player. Absence of malice or intent isn’t a factor, but the fact that it appeared to have absolutely no effect on the relay throw should be in the umps’ eyes. I can’t imagine that the Tide would have raised much ruckus if the game had ended right there.

Tennessee fans, predictably, have been lighting up social media ever since.

But why, you ask, should LSU care about Alabama and Tennessee?

Well, there’s a chance that when Bama eventually ran off with the victory, it may have taken with them the NCAA Tournament bid the Tigers went to Hoover thinking was in their pocket.

It now likely means the selection committee would have to take 10 SEC teams to find a spot for LSU. That has happened once before — and, given the strength of the league, this year would be as good a season as any to try it again — but you bring a lot of outside variables into play.

Seven SEC teams were locks going in.

LSU was slightly ahead of Georgia and Alabama in the pecking order of next hopefuls.

Despite a frustrating year, LSU has hung its hat on a curiously high rating percentage index, which seems to be a key factor for the selection committee except when it’s not.

LSU was No. 21 going in, comfortably ahead of Alabama and Georgia. But the Tigers lost to one and had to watch the other make a far deeper run.

LSU fell to No. 24 after the loss to Georgia and further to No. 27 while doing nothing Wednesday but watch helplessly as others improved their lot.

The last time LSU missed the NCAA Tournament (2010) the Tigers had an RPI of 28 — and the Tigers couldn’t even get a discount/pass as the defending national champions.

“It’s not an enviable position to be in,” head coach Paul Mainieri said after the Georgia loss. “But we’re just going to have to wait and see.”

It hasn’t gotten any better since then.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com””LSU baseball

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