It wasn’t pretty — and at times, it was downright ugly — but LSU advanced to the winners' bracket of its Baton Rouge regional with a 15-7 win against Texas Southern on Friday afternoon at Alex Box Stadium.
“I’m glad that game is over and we won,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “That was one of those games that happen once in a while. We’ve been playing so good, so crisp, so clean, so smart. Today we didn’t do a lot of those things.”
LSU (44-17) committed a season-high five errors, resulting in six unearned runs crossing the plate. The last time LSU committed five errors in a game came in its regional opener against Sam Houston State in 2011.
All of those errors came in the first five innings, and as LSU came up to the plate in the bottom of the fifth, it trailed 7-5.
“It was one thing after another — it was like Murphy’s Law out there today,” Mainieri said. “There were things I saw today that I haven’t seen all year, maybe in a few years.”
The Tigers were able to overcome that sloppiness with a great day at the plate. LSU scored 10 unanswered runs from the bottom of the fifth inning on to run away with the game. The biggest contributions came from the bottom of the order.
Josh Smith, Michael Papierski and Zach Watson combined to go 6-for-10 at the plate with nine RBIs out of the Nos. 7-9 spots in the LSU lineup.
“We did a really good job early in the game with controlling the middle of the order,” Texas Southern coach Michael Robertson said. “But after trying to make quality pitches to them, it’s really hard staying consistent. They put a lot of pressure on us. They have a really good hitting lineup.”
Watson became the first LSU player since Ryan Schimpf in the 2008 super regional against UC-Irvine to hit two home runs in an NCAA tournament game. The freshman center fielder finished the day 2-for-5 with four RBIs.
Watson and Papierski effectively put the game away in the seventh inning when they connected on back-to-back home runs — Papierski’s a two-run shot to right field, Watson’s a line drive solo shot to left — that gave LSU a 12-7 lead.
Zach Watson said his big day started in pregame batting practice with an exceedingly simple …
But LSU was anything but comfortable before then, as Texas Southern was the team applying most of the pressure.
“They came out aggressive swinging the bat and putting pressure on us, and we made some uncharacteristic errors,” said senior shortstop Kramer Robertson, who played a part in three of LSU’s five errors.
Texas Southern (20-33) was unfazed when LSU sent its No. 2 starter Jared Poché out to the mound, loading the bases three batters into the game on back-to-back singles and a walk.
Then things started getting weird. LSU, which entered the game with the nation’s seventh-best fielding percentage, made its first of many costly errors.
Christian Sanchez hit a shot that glanced off LSU third baseman Josh Smith’s glove. Robertson hustled to pick the ball up and fired to first — only nobody was there at the bag to receive the throw, allowing two runs to score. The error was charged to first baseman Nick Coomes.
Texas Southern brought another run home with the help of two second-inning errors. Smith airmailed a throw on a routine play with two outs, and the ensuing batter, Jose Camacho, ripped a single back up the middle that Watson let slide under his glove in center field.
LSU managed to crawl out of its early deficit on Watson’s first home run, a three-run shot to left, but its defensive woes would come back in force.
With one out in the fifth inning, the bases loaded with the help of a throwing error on Robertson to start the frame, Poché induced what looked like a surefire inning-ending, double-play ball.
But the ball rolled right under Robertson’s legs. Antoine Duplantis charged the ball as a runner rounded third base, but bobbled the transfer and two runs came home to score.
That was the end of Poché’s night.
“It’s my first time this year to really go through something like that,” Robertson said. “But you got to keep your head up and still be a leader and try your best not to let it affect you.”
LSU called for Caleb Gilbert (5-1) out of the bullpen and the sophomore right-hander steadied the game.
Gilbert struck out six in 2.2 innings, giving the LSU lineup the time it needed to take control of the wild ball game.
“I was really just trying to get us back in the dugout so we could get some momentum on our side and just get the bats hot,” Gilbert said.
WHO: No. 2 seed Southeastern Louisiana (37-20) vs. No. 1 seed LSU (44-17)
With the win, LSU has won 28 consecutive regional tournament openers. LSU will face the winner of Friday evening's contest between Rice and Southeastern Louisiana at 7 p.m. Saturday.