Alex Bregman shifted to his left, then shifted into a higher gear to run down Corey Dick’s grounder before turning and spinning to nip him at first base.
Andrew Stevenson laid flat out in right-center field to rob Luke Dunlap of extra bases, setting into motion a lunar eclipse-rare 8-4-3 double play.
“He looks like Odell Beckham Jr. going after those balls,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
“He’s the best outfielder I’ve ever played with,” left fielder Jake Fraley said. “I really feel like he’s going to catch every single ball.”
Third baseman Conner Hale wasn’t to be outdone. He didn’t know whether he was going to run waist-high into the railing fronting the UNC-Wilmington dugout. But he flew like a barnstormer through a cut midway through the fence, into the dugout in pursuit of Dick’s pop fly and down the steps to make his own grandstand play in the seventh.
LSU defended its home turf in Alex Box Stadium on Monday like the UNCW Seahawks were marauding invaders — or Ragin’ Cajuns. (More on them later.)
“It’s an honor to play for LSU,” said Bregman, the Tigers’ highlight-reel shortstop. “That’s how we approach it on defense. We just try to leave it all on the line.”
You know what they say about defense and championships? Well, defense won the Tigers the NCAA tournament’s Baton Rouge regional championship, a second straight 2-0 victory Monday over UNCW that put them two wins away from their eternal, ultimate goal of the College World Series.
Hitting was intermittent for the Tigers in this regional, though some credit is due to a UNCW staff that may have four of its pitchers drafted next week.
There were plenty of questions about LSU’s pitching, though Alex Lange’s Saturday night brilliance and Jared Poché’s blue-collar determination may have quieted the worry for a team that looked like it was trying to win with one dependable starter and a cast of bit players.
But defense, like LSU’s speed, has long been a constant for this squad. It took the Tigers a while at the start — the Tigers committed 20 errors in their first 14 games — but once Hale found his depth at third, it was like LSU switched on a vacuum behind the pitcher’s mound.
“It’s been tremendous,” Hale said of LSU’s defense. “The days you don’t bring the bats, you’re going to have to play great defense like we did today. That’s going to win you ballgames, especially when you have a pitcher like Poché going out and dominating like that.”
Mainieri and LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva were still agitated Monday about not having had a chance to finish off UNCW on Sunday night after the Seahawks eliminated Tulane, if by nothing else than the haphazard way the NCAA appears to make such rulings for one of its marquee championships. An arbitrary decision by the NCAA pushed the game to noon Monday, helping UNCW recharge its bullpen.
But Bregman said the Tigers weren’t ruffled, and they didn’t look that way at all. It was one of the most controlled close games you’ll ever see. Poché wobbled a bit in the fourth, issuing six straight balls to Gavin Stupienski and Dunlap before Stevenson went all Willie Mays on the Seahawks to double them off.
Next is Louisiana-Lafayette, LSU’s in-state rival, in their first super regional pairing. The Cajuns have never beaten the Tigers with a regional at stake, but UL-Lafayette has caught fire with eight straight postseason, team of destiny-type wins.
To win, LSU will have to bring plenty of game: the offense, the pitching and the defense.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.