The cheers came.
They didn’t come from the near-capacity crowd of 11,516 at Alex Box Stadium on Saturday, but from 27 men in the third-base dugout — from the Coastal Carolina players who had been questioned all week as to whether they were for real.
Apparently, they are. In Game 1 of the Baton Rouge super regional, the Chanticleers roared past LSU and held on for an 11-8 win on a long, humid night that dragged into Sunday, pushing the Tigers to the brink of elimination.
LSU and Coastal Carolina resume their best-of-three series at 8 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU. The Tigers will be the visiting team in their own park. To keep alive their season and a chance at the College World Series, they’ll have to beat the Chanticleers to force a winner-take-all Game 3 on Monday.
Junior left-hander Jared Poché will start Game 2 “if he feels good,” coach Paul Mainieri said after Saturday’s game.
As for the 4-hour, 24-minute affair, it began with plenty of LSU fans wondering whether Coastal’s offense — which had an eye-popping 91 home runs before this series began — was evidence of its offensive strength or the byproduct of a weak schedule.
It seemed more the latter. As they erased a deficit and chased Alex Lange after five-plus innings, Coastal Carolina players spent their time waving towels to cool down Chris Owings, who earlier in the day was selected in the MLB draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks but spent his evening abusing LSU pitching.
Owings was first out of the dugout to greet Zach Remillard, who followed Owings’ two-run blast with a solo shot of his own in the seventh inning against LSU reliever Jake Latz.
It was a towering bomb that LSU’s Beau Jordan could only turn and watch sail into the left-field seats.
The Chanticleers touched six LSU pitchers for 12 hits and three homers — those two in a three-run seventh that reduced the chances of another miracle LSU comeback.
It was nearly a career-worst evening for Lange, who spoke confidently Friday when peppered with questions about this formidable opponent. He was adamant, if not forceful, that his game plan against a free-swinging, homer-happy team would not differ.
Even if Alex Rodriguez stepped in the box, Lange said, his plan would remain the same — an overpowering arsenal that thrives on strikeouts and contact.
“It’s what we expected,” Lange said. “I just didn’t execute.”
For five innings, Lange did. He landed his breaking ball with regularity while relying on fastballs later in the count — pitching backward, as he calls it. He amassed six strikeouts through his first four innings, a span during which his only gaffe was an opposite-field, one-out solo home run after going down 2-0 in the count to G.K. Young in the second.
LSU led 3-1 after Greg Deichmann’s mammoth three-run homer in the fourth. Lange then gave up a scorching Seth Lancaster double down the right-field line in the fifth — one that was tossed into the crowd by a ball girl who thought the ball was foul.
Umpires went to instant replay before granting Lancaster his ground-rule double. Lancaster went to third on a wild pitch — one of three Lange threw in his start — and scored on Billy Cooke’s groundout.
Lange did not record an out in the sixth, allowing the first six runners to reach base before Mainieri ended his evening. Remillard, the fourth of those six, struck out on Lange’s two-strike curveball, his weapon of choice in said counts.
But catcher Mike Papierski neglected to block it. The ball bounced all the way to the LSU dugout, where Mainieri removed his cap in disgust as the tying run crossed the plate. A walk preceded Lancaster’s RBI single, and that ended Lange’s evening.
“I felt fine,” Lange said. “My arm was good. I felt like I had good stuff today. My breaking ball was good and my changeup was the best it’s been all year. My command was really good, too. I wasn’t anticipating that happening.”
The six earned runs on Lange’s line were one off his career high. Coastal’s seven hits were the most off Lange since May 6, when Arkansas had eight across 7.1 innings. Saturday’s stint lasted only five-plus.
Deichmann’s third-inning blast, on a hanging Andrew Beckwith breaking ball that left his bat at 103 mph, put his team up 3-1 and finally cracked the Chants’ crafty ace. Beckwith operated as advertised, dropping into a submarine delivery to pair with a customary, overhand throw.
LSU worked deep at-bats against Beckwith, who came into the game with a 12-1 record. The Tigers found solid contact across his 4.1-inning, seven-hit outing. He began the fifth inning, allowing Papierski and Freeman to hit safely before leadoff man Antoine Duplantis slapped an RBI single off his ankle, widening the Tigers’ lead.
“I thought (LSU) played very loose, very confident, very aggressive,” Mainieri said. “I thought they played really well. Obviously, so did Coastal Carolina. It was a really good ballgame. In the sixth inning, they got to Alex a little bit, and in the seventh they hit a couple home runs. The hits were almost even. I think the difference was, they hit three home runs and we hit one. And I think they took advantage of a few scoring opportunities.”
Beckwith faced one more hitter, Jake Fraley, who grounded both runners into scoring position with one out. Neither Kramer Robertson nor Beau Jordan drove the insurance runs in against reliever Bobby Holmes. The Tigers exited the inning up 4-1.
Thirty-two minutes later, its ace chased, LSU wobbled to the dugout facing a deficit it never overcame.
The cheers from the opposing dugout echoed through an otherwise silent ballpark, where LSU will play with its season on the line Sunday night.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Mainieri said. “There’s no hiding that fact. We know that. But we’re giving the ball to a kid we have a lot of confidence in, and I know our kids are going to be tough-minded. They are going to go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow and know that we have a tough ballgame, and they are going to be ready to play.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome.