OMAHA, Neb. — Just before entering the LSU locker room, Paul Mainieri looked toward the ceiling, raised both arms and said, “The curse of TD Ameritrade Park has been lifted!”
The Tigers baseball coach can thank Alex — both of them.
Shortstop Alex Bregman had his first four-hit day of the season, and freshman ace Alex Lange shook off a rocky first inning to deliver a complete-game, season-saving gem in LSU’s 5-3 win over Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday afternoon in a College World Series elimination game.
Bregman hit in the leadoff spot for just the third time in his career, part of a surprising lineup shift from Mainieri and his staff that also had Kade Scivicque hitting third.
Bregman was the driving force behind the Tigers’ 13-hit day, a rarity here.
LSU (54-11) had its best offensive performance in four games at TD Ameritrade and got its first win in this expansive stadium, which opened in 2011. The Tigers avoided a second straight 0-2 trip to the College World Series and next have a rematch with TCU, which lost to Vanderbilt 1-0 on Tuesday night, at 7 p.m. Thursday on ESPN.
“We needed to get our swagger back,” Bregman said, “and we got it back.”
In front of an announced crowd of 18,751 on a sun-splashed afternoon, the Tigers’ quiet bats awakened during a four-run third inning, and Lange fought back from some early woes for a furious finish to his 118-pitch start.
The SEC Freshman of the Year, Lange remained undefeated on the season, moving to 12-0 in what could be his final pitching performance of a stunning rookie year. He had 10 strikeouts, allowed six hits and retired 25 of his final 28 batters to become the second LSU freshman starter to win a game at the College World Series and the first since 1993.
Oh yes, the Alexes put on a show on college baseball’s grandest stage.
“Both of those guys,” Scivicque said, “are amazing.”
Lange opened the game by having one of the worst innings of his season as the Tigers dipped into a 3-0 hole. He retired the first batter before allowing four straight hits, including a triple. It was the first time four straight batters had a hit off Lange this season. He walked a batter, too, in the nightmarish 25-pitch inning.
He then allowed just three base runners over the next eight innings of scoreless ball that had pitching coach Alan Dunn beaming afterward.
“Early on, they came out and put a couple of swings on mistakes he made,” Dunn said outside of a celebratory LSU locker room. “That’s what good teams do. Missed his spots here and there. As the game progressed, he was able to locate his stuff that he didn’t do early in the game.”
Lange went on a strikeout roll late. He had three straight Ks starting with the final batter in the seventh. All but two of the Titans’ nine starters struck out as Lange helped end the season for Fullerton (39-25).
More importantly, Lange led his Tigers to a win in a ballpark that has had Mainieri turning in his sleep. LSU scored three total runs in two 2013 losses here, and they mustered three more in a 10-3 loss to TCU on Sunday.
Bregman was 0-for-8 at the CWS in 2013. Boy, he sure has changed that.
He’s 6-for-9 in two games at TD Ameritrade this year, slamming four sharply hit shots through the infield in his first four at-bats Tuesday. Bregman, LSU’s normal No. 3 hitter, made just his third start at the leadoff spot in his three-year career.
Why? Mainieri wanted to jolt an offense that had slipped into a slumber. He also wanted to separate his left-handed hitters since he expected Fullerton to start a lefty.
Mainieri told Bregman he would be batting leadoff during practice Monday. It later was announced that Fullerton would start a righty.
“We found out we were facing a right-hander instead of a left-hander, and I texted him, ‘You want me to still lead off?’ And he told me I was going to,” Bregman said. “I love it. I don’t care where I hit. I tried to stay the same. I was trying to hit like I was hitting third.”
He led off three innings with a single, flashing the stuff that made him the No. 2 selection in the MLB draft last week.
Will he stay at leadoff?
“I don’t know why you’d change — leadoff hitter getting on base four times,” said outfielder Mark Laird, who had three hits after dropping from the leadoff spot to the No. 8 hole.
Said designated hitter Chris Sciambra: “He really did have a breakout game. It was awesome. It set the tone for the game. We had to keep up with him a little bit.”
The Tigers snapped their hitting skid in this park with a third-inning party. They sent nine to the plate and rolled up six hits. All of them were singles, and three — from Chris Chinea, Sciambra and Scivicque — scored runs. Andrew Stevenson had a sacrifice fly, too, as Andy Cannizaro’s hitters chased Fullerton starter Connor Seabold.
Danny Zardon, a pinch hitter, had a sacrifice fly for an insurance run in the seventh as the hitters broke out for the first time at this place.
And they won, too.
“It feels great,” Bregman said. “We were 0-3 in my career since we’ve been here. Kind of got the monkey off our back.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.