For much of the NCAA super regional, the LSU Tigers were the gang that couldn’t hit straight.
In their two games with Louisiana-Lafayette, the Tigers were out-hit 17-12. They looked for most of the proceedings like Dracula had drained the blood from their bats. Their bullpen again drew puzzled looks, and LSU has become infamous for not having one, true closer among its relief corps.
But eventually, the old familiar scene played out on the floor of Alex Box Stadium. LSU, in the ninth: closing out the opposition, pointing their purple and gold RV toward Omaha for the 17th time.
It ended this way: Blake Trahan, the Cajuns shortstop and valiant leader, popped out to first baseman Chris Chinea to bring to a close LSU’s 6-3 victory.
There wasn’t a huge amount of celebration, and no dogpile. Just a few hugs, a convention in center field, followed by the now-scripted victory lap around The Box.
Perhaps there was more relief than joy for the Tigers in this one. It was a fight from start to finish, as expected from a UL-Lafayette team that came to Baton Rouge with confidence and determination and went down swinging.
Maybe LSU won’t find much winning luck in the College World Series. Maybe they will win it all.
But maybe it’s time to stop poking holes in the Tigers. All I know about these Tigers is this: They have 53 wins. They won the regular-season championship in the toughest conference in college baseball, the conference that has a chance to send a record five teams to the CWS.
And they find a way to win. Some how, some way. Over and over again.
The Cajuns were playing defense like nine vacuum cleaners switched on in unison. Center fielder Kyle Clement robbed Jake Fraley and Alex Bregman — LSU’s poster boy for offensive troubles offered his shaved head to the baseball gods before Sunday’s game to try to gin up some hits — on back-to-back diving grabs in the fourth.
Conversely, it was the pitching that looked so suspect in the SEC tournament that kept LSU afloat. Alex Lange wasn’t as dominant Saturday night as he was in his previous complete-game shut out against UNC Wilimington. But he struck out 10 over eight-plus innings of three-run ball, plenty good enough to give the Tigers a chance to win that they cashed in late.
Jared Poché was guttier still in his second straight quality start after some late-season shakiness. While Cajuns starter Gunner Leger was cutting through the LSU order, Poché was dancing with danger inning after inning, allowing a KC hall full of lead-off men to reach base before wriggling out of Houdini’s chains time and again. By the time he left after 7.2 innings, he had allowed just one run.
Finally, in the sixth inning of a scoreless standoff, a defensive dandy seemed to give the Tigers some mojo.
The Cajuns’ Joe Robbins reached on a slow roller to short that was called a tough error on Bregman. Then after a sacrifice bunt, Poché hit Stefan Trosclair.
UL-Lafayette looked like it pulled off a double steal, but Tyler Girouard fouled a pitch off at the plate. With the runners sent back to first and second, Girouard lined out to Jared Foster at second, and he flipped to the covering Bregman at the base to force out Robbins.
The Tigers charged off the field, some fire finally in their eyes. Bregman popped out to short to lead off the seventh, banging his bat into the ground in frustration. But Kade Scivicque followed.
They don’t call Scivicque the Maurepas Masher for nothing. He knocked a 1-0 offering from Leger out of round, a home run that would have sailed halfway to the site of the old Pancho’s up Nicholson Drive if it hadn’t hit the scoreboard.
For all their pressure, their craftiness, their determination, the Cajuns were never able to wrest the lead from the Tigers’ hands.
For that, they paid with the end of their season.
It all came unraveled for the Cajuns in the LSU eighth. Bregman finally collected his first NCAA hit: a two-out, two-run single up the middle that scored pinch-runner Sciambra and Mark Laird. The Tigers tacked on two more runs on a Conner Hale triple down the right field line for a 5-0 lead, with Hale pumping his fists skyward in delight as he just beat the throw to third.
And now they move on, college baseball’s winningest team the past four years, returning to the site of so many triumphs over the past 25 years.
They aren’t the hottest team still alive. They just win. And maybe there’s nothing more impressive than that.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.