The LSU baseball team entered Sunday night’s championship round game against Houston needing one win to advance to the NCAA Super Regional round, and they appeared to have the game in hand after building a 4-0 lead through the first seven innings of action.
But in the game’s final innings, the Tigers failed to maintain their grip on the lead they built, and what seemed to be a sure victory for LSU coach Paul Mainieri’s club instead turned into a momentum-swinging triumph for the visiting Cougars from Houston.
LSU (46-15-1) fell to Houston (47-16) by a final score of 5-4 in 11 innings Sunday night in Alex Box Stadium. Sophomore right fielder Kyle Survance had the game-winning RBI-single in the top of the eleventh that put the exclamation point on the Cougars’ dramatic comeback.
LSU and Houston will battle for the final time Monday at 7 p.m. with the season on the line. After the game, Mainieri simply said it just wasn’t his club’s night.
“We seemingly had the game in hand, and I felt like we should have been up more than [four runs],” Mainieri said. “Unfortunately, the balls weren’t falling for us. Every ball [Houston] hit found a hole. The breaks of baseball were against us tonight.”
It appeared neither team had much of a break through the first seven innings of play. The only difference in the game at that point was a solo home run by LSU junior catcher Kade Scivicque early in the second inning.
But the seventh inning is when the craziness began, and it was the Tigers who caught the early break.
After junior second baseman Conner Hale hit a leadoff single to begin the bottom of the frame, junior first baseman Tyler Moore roped a line drive down the right field line for a base hit. The ball rested under the fence in the corner of right field, but the umpires ruled that the ball was still live, and Moore raced around the bases for an inside the park two-run homer.
Houston coach Todd Whitting immediately ran onto the field to discuss the play with the umpires and officially protested the call moments later. The Baton Rouge Regional Protest Committee, made up of two NCAA representatives and umpires Joe Burleson and Steve Mattingly, still ruled in favor of LSU, saying in a statement that the “ball was not lodged and remained live and in play.”
Sophomore shortstop Alex Bregman gave the Tiger pitching staff a little more run support later in the inning, hitting an RBI-double that drove in senior third baseman Christian Ibarra and increased Houston’s deficit to four runs. But Whitting said he noticed a sharp change in his team’s demeanor after the crazy seventh inning.
“Now looking back on that thing, that kind of jumpstarted us a little bit,” Whitting said. “We come right back and respond after that.”
After starter Kyle Bouman pitched the Tigers through six scoreless innings, Mainieri turned to senior right-hander Kurt McCune keep the momentum going. But McCune couldn’t fight off the Cougar bats in the top of the eighth, surrendering four runs on three hits before the inning’s first out.
“[Kyle] Bouman was phenomenal,” Mainieri said. “We couldn’t ask for anything more from him. Kurt McCune pitched an outstanding seventh inning, but [Houston] kept finding holes in the eighth inning.”
In the end, the closest LSU came to stealing back the victory from Houston came in the bottom of the 10th inning when Bregman belted a pitch off of senior right-hander Chase Wellbrock to centerfield, and for a few seconds it seemed the Tiger’s late meltdown would all be forgotten Monday morning.
The ball carried and carried until it finally dropped into the glove of senior outfielder Landon Appling, and Bregman, who was 4-for-5 at the plate, could only talk about his one out after the game.
“The last hit came up short, and that’s what mattered,” Bregman said.
Now the task for the Tigers is to put Sunday’s disheartening loss behind them, or Houston may be the team celebrating in Alex Box Stadium Monday night. With Bregman nodding in agreement beside him, Moore said his team has already moved past the loss.
“It is already flushed,” Moore said. “We are looking forward to tomorrow. There is no time to hang our heads now. It is win or go home.”