The late, great Prince told everyone to party like it’s 1999.
Here at the first NCAA baseball regional ever held at a water park, the Rice Owls decided to party like it was 2001 and 2014.
And that’s a bad scene for the LSU Tigers. The last thing they want is for the visitors to get to the velvet rope, peer over and think they have the right to crash the bash almost always held in LSU’s favor.
It’s happened before. Rarely, but it’s happened. VCU did win a regional final game in 2001, but LSU managed to win the last home game of Skip Bertman’s career and take the regional anyway.
Houston, Rice’s public school crosstown cousin, completed the job in 2014, erasing a 4-0 LSU lead to win 5-4 in 11 innings before coming back to swamp the Tigers 12-2 in the do-or-die final.
For one of the rare instances in LSU baseball’s glittering history book, the “if necessary” game is necessary in a home regional. The dreaded, if you’re LSU, Game 7.
Now LSU finds itself in that situation again, much too soon for the comfort of the faithful fans who have slogged through mud and sat through rain and sought shelter from lightning at this marathon of a regional.
Ominous clouds started gathering for LSU in Rice’s elimination game Monday afternoon against Southeastern Louisiana, actually. The Owls pounded the Lions from tip to buzzer to the tune of 15 runs on 16 hits. This against an SLU team that entered the NCAA tournament with the nation’s sixth-best earned run average.
Rice continued cooking in the evening session, with 10 runs on 13 hits that all seemed to come at crucial times. It’s pretty heady stuff for a team that entered this game batting just a collective .273.
LSU is the better team — top eight national seed, top-10 RPI, steeled in the competition of the nation’s toughest conference, Rally Possum. You know, the works. But most ominous of all, and this is the part of baseball that makes it more unpredictable than the other big sports (football, basketball, MMA), a team can get hot at the right time and turn into an uncontrollable wildfire.
That may be the situation the Tigers have on their hands Tuesday afternoon. And it might not be easy to douse the flame the Owls have stoked in their dugout.
The Tigers actually out-hit the Owls in this one, collecting 16 base knocks including a pair of two-run homers from Kramer Robertson and Jake Fraley. But for every big hit, LSU seemed to come up wanting for another, stranding it seemed the equivalent of its business college on the base paths, a dozen good men in all.
Now it’s win or go home, or stay home in LSU’s case. One game, and anything can happen.
“The best thing is it’s back against the wall for both teams,” Rice catcher Hunter Kopycinski said. “We’ve done a great job battling like this late in the season.”
“It’s just one ballgame,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, a note of weariness in his voice. “We played one game tonight and we’ll play one (Tuesday). They players aren’t dumb. They know to play next week we have to get the job done. I don’t think there’s more pressure on anybody.”
It was a nice try from Mainieri, but the pressure is of course on LSU. After the run of success they’ve been on since the calendar turned to May, going 16-3 in all to this point, the Tigers were expected to storm (pun intended) through this regional.
Perhaps LSU still is. Perhaps it seems that way because they Tigers have done it so many times.
But not every time. There have been just enough instances when they haven’t to make it a fretful situation for LSU.
Certainly no one on the LSU side is even thinking about throwing a party just yet.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.