The rain seemed to come out of nowhere.
So did the Ragin’ Cajuns.
And then, so did Chris Sciambra.
LSU wasn’t dominating but was in control of the NCAA tournament’s Baton Rouge super regional opener against Louisiana-Lafayette for seven innings, up 3-1. Not running-away-and-hiding kind of numbers, but it was the same margin by which the Tigers twice beat UNC-Wilmington in last week’s regional.
Then, like something out of a Hollywood script of a very clichéd sports movie, the wind changed, the rain started to fall and the underdog Cajuns started putting up runs like Roy Hobbs.
They pulled within 3-2 in the eighth, actually stranding runners at second and third thanks to a great pick and throw by LSU shortstop Alex Bregman, then incredibly tied it in the ninth. Brenn Conrad shocked everyone, probably even himself, belting a first-pitch, pinch-hit home run to right off Tigers ace Alex Lange to pull even with LSU at 3-3.
It was a great story for the Cajuns, who twice came back from the dearly departed last week to snatch victories with ninth-inning heroics in the Houston regional.
But it was LSU that penned the storybook finish. Chris Sciambra, the Catholic High grad, took a 2-2 pitch from Will Bacon, a Parkview Baptist grad, and launched it into the right-field bleachers.
He knew it as soon as he looked up out of the batter’s box, raising a right index finger in triumph à la Warren Morris in the 1996 College World Series.
Somewhere, Will, Robbie Morrison feels your pain.
It was dramatic, heady stuff, putting Sciambra and the Tigers just a win away from returning to Omaha, the site of Morris’ immortal blow.
But if LSU is to get that win, the Tigers may well have to do better than this offensively.
LSU dodged a vermilion-colored bombshell, nearly squandering a start by the amazing Lange.
For such warm weather, LSU’s offense could hardly be colder. The Tigers were outhit Saturday 10-5. They have scored just eight runs in their past three NCAA tournament games, 18 in four NCAA games total. This while teams like Vanderbilt, Florida, TCU and Miami are battering their way to the College World Series with double-digit steamrollers.
The Tigers got zero hits from offensive mainstays Alex Bregman (0-for-15 in the NCAA tournament), Conner Hale, Andrew Stevenson and Chris Chinea. It may have made no difference Saturday, but eventually it will.
“We’ve got to start swinging the bats,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We’re putting too much pressure on our pitching staff.”
The Tigers’ offensive issues and the rain aside, Saturday was a superb day to be a college baseball fan in Louisiana.
Motor homes were docked like cruise liners in the parking lots along Nicholson Drive from Alex Box Stadium to Tiger Stadium, flags fluttering on the warm breeze. Well-lubricated tailgate parties buzzed under the proverbial stately oaks or tents that protected party-goers from the garish June sun.
And ticket seekers, those obviously without connections to the state legislature, held up pairs of fingers in search of tickets that would get them in the ballpark without forking over the equivalent of a down payment on a motor home. It looked like a downsized version of a big football weekend, perhaps the biggest college baseball weekend ever in Louisiana.
There were three types of fans on campus Saturday.
There were those desperately trying to get tickets, like Troy Primeaux of Welsh. He arrived outside the ballpark at 2:45 p.m. and was rewarded with a shaded place to stand at the front of the standing-room-only ticket line for 4½ hours.
“We’ve got to wait, but I think we’ll get in after the first inning or so,” he said.
There were fans like Myles Kiper of Wisner, who had one foot in and one foot outside the ballpark.
Kiper has a pair of LSU season tickets that gave him the right to purchase two for the super regional but was sharing them with a group of eight. In a rare fit of generosity, the NCAA allows fans to share tickets going in and out of the ballpark.
For the times he couldn’t get into the game, Kiper wasn’t too concerned. He was parked in the front row of Alex Box’s Hall of Fame parking lot, within a Sciambra home run of the third-base stands.
“We can watch on TV and hear the crowd,” said Kiper, a beer in hand and the Florida-Florida State super regional on the flat screen a few feet away.
Then there were fans like the Spinosas, brothers Randy of Mandeville and Kenny of Denham Springs (LSU grads) and Randy’s son Drew from Lafayette, a UL-Lafayette grad.
The Spinosas didn’t have super regional tickets and didn’t seem to care. What they did have was a nice tailgating spot for their crowd under the oaks at Nicholson and South Stadium and a well-stocked RV.
“Everybody shows up if you’ve got food and alcohol,” Randy Spinosa said from the air-conditioned comfort of his motor home, a motor home he says will likely be pointed toward Omaha next week no matter what.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.