From all over the country the returns came, like election-night flashes on college baseball’s most momentous day.
Saturday is when all eight NCAA super regionals are in action, and everywhere home teams were in retreat. Home-field advantage? What’s that? It meant nothing in ballpark after ballpark as super regionals filled with national seeds — seven of them — waged a losing battle with the invading hordes.
By the time the Baton Rouge super regional opener between LSU and Coastal Carolina ended early Sunday morning, home teams were a combined 3-9 in super regional games. Mississippi State was eliminated. Florida and Louisville, regarded as the best teams in the country depending on whom you ask, were beaten in their openers by Florida State and UC Santa Barbara (Gauchos, gotcha), respectively.
Why, then, should LSU have been any different on this topsy-turvy, super stomach-upsetting weekend?
As it turned out, the Tigers weren’t immune at all.
In control up 4-2 going into the top of the sixth inning, LSU started getting knocked around like the Chanticleers were taking batting practice, until they got tired of swinging and the game ended 11-8 in their favor.
Turns out, all those home runs they hit against mid-major pitching in the Big South Conference flew just as fast and just as far against major-major Southeastern Conference pitching.
The Chanticleers chased LSU’s ace, Alex Lange, with a four-run sixth. They chased second reliever Jake Latz, whose feel-good comeback seems to have struck a reef. They chased the “Rally Possum” back into his lair, where he watched the proceedings on his big screen and is rumored to have tweeted, “I can only help those who help themselves. See you Sunday.”
Before Sunday’s Game 2 of the super regional, the Tigers had better get right with their higher power, marsupial or otherwise, because their season is on the brink. LSU, like so many other super regional hosts, finds itself pushed to the edge of elimination. In the Tigers’ case, they’ll have to survive and advance by winning two games after throwing their most talented pitcher, who is one loss from heading to his summer home on Krypton.
In other words, it won’t be easy. Cynics will recall that LSU got knocked out of its 2012 super regional at home by Stony Brook, a regional No. 4 seed that LSU rooters hadn’t heard of before it sailed down the Mississippi and left with a ticket to Omaha the Tigers assumed was theirs.
Well, that Stony Brook team played some great, clutch baseball when it got to Baton Rouge. So far, Coastal Carolina is showing the same propensity plus. The Chanticleers may have a nickname that’s as hard to pronounce as Schexnaydre, but they can certainly hit, pitch and run. If Coastal plays that well in another game here, it will be a deserving team that heads to Omaha for the first time.
LSU will have something to say about that. Paul Mainieri will certainly throw Jared Poché in Game 2, and Poché was brilliant in a start and relief in the regional. And it’s worth noting that both times LSU fell in Game 1 of a home super regional, the Tigers came back to beat Baylor in 2003 and UC Irvine in 2008.
“It’s a tough loss for us, but it’s a three-game series or best-two-out-of-three,” Mainieri said. “If we were sitting here tonight and we had won, I would tell you we don’t have anything wrapped up and neither do they. We’ve lost the first game of a series before and come back and won two in a row, and that’s the mindset we’re going to have.”
Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore expects nothing less than a struggle to get that one, history-making win for his program.
“We’ve got a long way to go to get another win here,” he said. “That’s a proud and talented team. I’m sure they’re going to come at us even harder than they did today.”
LSU has been to Omaha 17 times, so nothing around here moves the needle except another trip to Omaha. The only thing to make a memory from an LSU perspective was a comedy routine in the fifth inning.
In a fit of Trumpian ingenuity, LSU’s facilities crew hastily knocked together a barrier — a wall, if you will — underneath both bullpen benches to prevent a repeat of the Greg Deichmann inside-the-park grand slam controversy from the first Rice regional game from reoccurring.
The industrious folks at LSU didn’t figure, however, on operator error on top of the bench. An LSU ball girl took Seth Lancaster’s live ball (in her defense, first-base umpire Billy Van Raaphorst didn’t immediately signal it fair or foul) and tossed it into the crowd. Lancaster was given a ground-rule double but eventually scored, as did so many of his teammates.
It was a night when LSU was foiled on all fronts, on furniture and on the field.
The Tigers are down to their last chance to make amends.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.