Omaha, here come the Tigers.
Alex Bregman, Kade Scivicque and Conner Hale all drove in runs in their last home at-bats, Jared Poché pitched out of a host of sweat-soaked jams and LSU is heading back to baseball’s promised land: the College World Series.
The Tigers finished a super regional sweep with a drama-filled, 6-3 win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Sunday night at a rowdy Alex Box Stadium.
“This team deserves to go to Omaha,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “That’s where we belong.”
Poché gave the Tigers 7.2 innings of five-hit ball, stranding five runners in scoring position in the first seven innings, and the Tigers (53-10) blew open a one-run advantage with a roaring, scintillating and electric four-run eighth inning.
LSU’s players flooded out of the dugout and onto the field after Parker Bugg retired the final batter in the ninth. A crowd estimated at more than 11,000 then screamed into the muggy Louisiana night.
“Eauxmaha!” it is.
“It’s a dream for all of these Louisiana boys that come to play for LSU,” Poché said.
The NCAA tournament’s No. 2 seed, LSU advances to play TCU or Texas A&M next Sunday at the CWS — the Tigers’ 17th trip to the grandest stage in the game and the fourth in Mainieri’s nine seasons.
LSU players paraded around the Box for their traditional victory lap. They finished in left-center field, having slipped on Omaha golden T-shirts and purple beads.
For Bregman, it was a final hurrah. The junior is projected as a top-10 pick in the MLB draft Monday. He’ll almost certainly forgo his senior year, signing what is likely to be a contract with a $3 million-plus signing bonus.
He ended his three-year, All-America run in style, snapping an 0-for-18 skid with a two-run, two-out single in the eighth to make it 3-0.
He drove a high changeup up the gut of Skip Bertman Field as the Box shook with excitement — a similar hit to the one that began his LSU career. In the 2013 season opener, Bregman singled for his first career hit — a single up the middle.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “The Box was rocking. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was going to go up the middle.”
He was far from the only one to cap an LSU home career with a slamming shot. Hale followed Bregman with a two-run triple for a 5-0 lead, and Scivicque had a seventh-inning solo homer.
The pair of seniors bowed out of Baton Rouge on top, and so did longtime LSU play-by-play man Jim Hawthorne, calling his final game after 30-plus years broadcasting.
“For a final time at Alex Box Stadium and Skip Bertman Field,” Hawthorne said signing off, “thank you and good night.”
Moments later, he gave a reporter one word to describe the moment: “Bittersweet.”
The Tigers erupted from their hitting slumber in that eighth. They entered the inning 7 for their last 60 at-bats, stretching back to the regional championship win last Monday.
The Tigers made sure that changed. They chased UL-Lafayette freshman ace Gunner Leger in that wild eighth, punching their ticket to Omaha by taking the first two games of this best-of-three against an old rival from an hour away.
“That was the worst stretch for us for about five and a half games,” Mainieri said of the hitting lull. “Kade gets the big swing and loosens everybody up. We’re going to go to Omaha as a very confident team.”
LSU ended the Cinderella story scribbled by a Cajuns team (42-23) that was a regional No. 3 seed. They made a late charge, scoring two runs in the ninth on the Tigers’ bullpen, but it wasn’t enough to defeat the nation’s top dog.
The country’s consensus top-ranked team for the final month of the regular season, LSU is where many projected it would be: heading to Omaha.
The path here wasn’t easy. The Tigers needed a Chris Sciambra game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth to claim a 4-3 win in Saturday’s opener. They won their final two games of last week’s regional with back-to-back 2-0 scores over UNC-Wilmington.
This one was scoreless through six innings before Scivicque’s towering solo homer in the seventh. LSU entered the eighth with that slim 1-0 lead and then sent eight batters to the plate to hit cruise control.
Poché (9-1) saved the quiet bats early. He finished with seven strikeouts and allowed just the one run — a second straight gem of a start for the sophomore lefty.
“An awesome performance,” Scivicque said.
The bayou boy from Lutcher was a magician on this night.
The Cajuns stranded a runner at second base in four of the first six frames, leaving a total of seven on the base paths in that time. They got the leadoff man on base four of those times, and they had a runner at second base with less than two outs four times.
Poché and LSU’s defense never let a runner reach third, though, putting on a masterful defensive performance and gritty pitching show for a rocking crowd.
The defense turned two inning-ending double plays in the first six innings, and Poché retired seven batters with men in scoring position.
“A couple of times, when there was a runner on second, you just kind of got to bear down and make plays,” Poché said.
The Tigers are heading back to a successful site they know well. LSU is gunning for its seventh national championship, a stunning run that began in 1991.
The Tigers’ last trip to Omaha, in 2013, lasted two games, just the fourth time the program has done that at the CWS in 16 previous trips there. They have dominated the eight-team, double-elimination event unlike any other squad. No team has won more than two titles during LSU’s stretch of six.
The CWS bracket is divided into two, four-team pods. The pod winners meet in a best-of-three championship series beginning June 22. None of LSU’s pod opponents have punched their tickets. The Vanderbilt-Illinois series’ Game 2 was postponed Sunday because of rain. The teams will play Game 2 Monday.
The Commodores won the series opener. LSU will meet the winner of Monday night’s Texas A&M and TCU game in the CWS opener next Sunday. A&M and TCU are set for a 7 p.m. first pitch on ESPN. Louisville and Cal State Fullerton play a Game 3 Monday night as well. The opposite pod is set and will begin Saturday: Virginia-Arkansas and Florida-Miami.
The CWS will have a tough time beating the atmosphere this weekend at the Box. More than an estimated 11,000 loaded into the stadium Saturday and Sunday and turned the parking lots encircling the Box into purple-and-gold tailgating seas.
LSU sent them home happy — and not with the ceremonial dogpile. No, instead players raced to center field, stomping on the grass in unison.
Why no dogpile?
“Maybe,” Bregman said, “we’ll be saving that one.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.