Heard this one before?
LSU got off to a sluggish start in an NCAA regional opener against an inferior opponent before pulling out a win.
The nation’s top-ranked team and the NCAA’s No. 2 overall seed, the Tigers bounced back from an early deficit – and a two hour-plus rain delay – to beat Lehigh 10-3 on Friday night at Alex Box Stadium.
LSU (49-10) scored at least one run in its last five innings at the plate, rebounding from a 2-0 deficit with a comeback that began in the fourth inning and didn’t end until the eighth. The Tigers won a 26th straight opening game of an NCAA regional on a night when a host of relievers experienced some hiccups.
“I don’t think we played one of our better games of the year,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “Need to play a lot better.”
It’s nothing new.
It was the sixth time a No. 1-seeded LSU team trailed to a No. 4 seed halfway through a regional opener. They’ve all ended the same – with a Tigers win.
“I know at one point we had seven straight SEC games where we got down early and came back,” outfielder Jake Fraley said. “It’s baseball. It happens. We have the trust in our lineup to come back whether it’s one run or four. We got down early and, like we have all season, strung together some big hits.”
Now, it’s off to Saturday’s night winner bracket final at 8 p.m. against UNC-Wilmington.
Andrew Stevenson had three hits, and Kade Scivicque and Chris Sciambra drove in two runs each for the Tigers, the consensus No. 1-ranked team in the nation over the last month.
LSU set the school record for steals in an NCAA tournament game with eight as coach Mainieri’s club rebounded from that 2-hour, 17-minute rain delay and those early woes.
The Tigers stranded five runners in the first three innings against Lehigh (25-30), the Patriot League tournament champs from Pennsylvania. Austin Bain, the second pitcher used, allowed two doubles and two runs in the fourth inning to put the Tigers into that brief hole.
It didn’t last long. In the bottom of the frame, LSU scored two to tie.
“That’s what got us kick started,” Mainieri said. “Once we fell behind, there was no panic. Stevenson got a base hit and Chinea smoked one up the middle (to start the inning).”
Hunter Newman (3-0) got the win on the mound in a game that LSU pieced together with seven pitchers, treating this opener as a midweek game.
It wasn’t always pretty. Bain had a rough go in that 21-pitch fourth inning. He pitched the most of any hurler, throwing three innings of three-hit ball. Jesse Stallings hit a batter, and Doug Norman threw a wild pitch to score a run, but the Tigers bats easily bailed them out after chasing Lehigh starting lefty Nick Macaione.
“He had us on our toes,” second baseman Jared Foster said.
LSU got four hits of Macaione in his four innings before rolling up nine hits the next four frames, securing the win with a three-run sixth and two runs in each the seventh and eighth on a wet Skip Bertman Field.
The early woes? They were expected in a lot of ways in these regional openers.
LSU trailed Southeastern Louisiana 4-2 after six innings last season. The Tigers trailed Southern 2-1 after six in 2009, and faced deep deficits against Marist (2005) and Southern (2002).
They had to overcome a rain delay in this one.
LSU and Lehigh made it through the first half-inning before a thunderstorm delayed the game for more than two hours. Rain hit Alex Box at 3:10 p.m. Lehigh pitcher Nick Macaione threw his first pitch to start the bottom of the first inning at 5:27 p.m., resuming a game that originally began at 3.
“Kind of knocked us out of focus a little bit,” Mainieri said of the delay.
Rain was expected. There was a 60 percent chance for showers Friday, and Mainieri planned to pitch a host of relievers to avoid a rain delay interrupting a starter’s stint.
Making his first start of the season, Alden Cartwright retired the side on just 11 pitches in the top of the first inning. He was only expected to pitch the first two innings, but the delay cut his start to one frame.
LSU’s comeback began in the fourth with the Tigers down 2-0 with help from Mountain Hawk starter Nick Macaione. He threw two wild pitches.
The last one scored Chris Chinea from third base to tie the game. Stevenson and Chinea had back-to-back singles to begin that fourth inning, and Danny Zardon had an RBI groundout for the first run. The Tigers took their first lead in the fifth on an RBI single from Kade Scivicque, driving in Alex Bregman, who started the inning with a single.
It was a relief for many of the estimated 7,000 at the Box for a matinee that stretched into the evening. LSU stranded five runners over the first three frames. They got the first two on in the second and two of the first three on in the third. Jake Fraley, Chinea, Zardon, Conner Hale and Scivicque all failed to bring a runner home in those instances.