Andro Cutura had every right to be a bit nervous Friday.
The Southeastern Louisiana junior was throwing against one of the hottest teams in the country, in one of the most intimidating stadiums in the country.
But the right-hander gave the Lions a chance to pull off what would have been the biggest victory in school history.
A sloppy eighth inning prevented it, though, and the Lions left with a coulda-woulda-shoulda 8-4 loss to tournament host LSU in the opening round of the Baton Rouge regional.
Cutura, a Pearl River native, did his part.
He scattered nine hits and allowed four runs in his outing, cooling off the Tigers’ bats that had been scorching coming into the game.
LSU, the region’s top seed, had scored 87 runs and 110 hits in its previous eight games.
Cutura wasn’t intimidated.
“This team definitely isn’t afraid of anybody, whether it’s LSU or whoever,” Cutura said. “It doesn’t matter who. ... This is my first time playing here, and I think I had a little bit of the jitters in the beginning. I think I got through that pretty quickly.”
Cutura finished with four strikeouts and walked two.
“Andro handled it really well,” Southeastern coach Matt Riser said. “You have the No. 4 club in the country that’s been hot— probably the hottest club in the country right now, as far as swinging the bats. You could see they weren’t very comfortable with Andro, but they kept battling and putting balls in play and kept putting the pressure on us.”
Cutura worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning. LSU stranded eight runners while Cutura was on the mound.
“I didn’t get too many three up, three down innings,” Cutura said. “They did a good job of hitting, and I had to work from behind a lot. I think our defense did a good job of making plays, and we battled through a lot of adversity through the game. I think we did a decent job. We had that one inning (the eighth) where we let it slip.”
Southeastern will play the loser of Thursday’s Houston-Bryant game at 2 p.m. Friday in an elimination game.
The Lions, the No. 4-seeded team in the regional, now face even tougher odds if they want to extend their trip in their first regional appearance since 1994.
Last season, none of the 32 teams who lost their regional opener advanced to a super regional.
But that isn’t stopping Riser from believing his team can do the unthinkable and win four games in three days.
“I’ve seen teams come back and win the tournament,” Riser said. “That was my challenge to them. What team are you going to be? Are you going to continue to be the guys that we are at Southeastern and continue to mentally be tough and mentally battle at each pitch? Or are you going to fold up? I think our guys are going to rise to the challenge.”
Riser liked his team’s chances Friday when the Lions led 4-2 and had stood toe-to-toe with their powerhouse in-state neighbors with the six national championship flags flying outside their stadium.
“I think anybody in that situation feels good with their ace on the mound and the bullpen fresh as we have and as veteran as we are in the bullpen,” Riser said. “We have a fifth-year senior and a fourth-year senior in the bullpen. But (at) the end of the day, we didn’t execute some pitches, and they got some big hits. You have to tip your hat. There is a reason they are ranked No. 4 in the country and a No. 8 seed in the country.”
It was the eighth inning that doomed the Lions.
Southeastern committed two costly errors in the eighth.
The first came when LSU’s No. 9 hitter, Christian Ibarra, hit a dribbler that barely traveled a few feet from home plate. Ibarra reached on a throwing error by catcher Jameson Fisher. Later in the inning, Lions pitcher Dylan Hills threw the ball away on a pickoff attempt.
“It was just a regular pickoff move to first — just trying to check the hit-and-run there,” Riser said. “Obviously, it was in the back of (Hills’) mind that we’d do it. But at the end of the day, we just didn’t execute it. It’s really simple and that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
A two-run homer by LSU’s Sean McMullen later in the inning helped the Tigers push their lead to 8-4, which proved to be plenty cushion.
“It’s disappointing, for sure,” said first baseman Sam Roberson, who had a two-run homer in the sixth. “Our big thing is limiting the big inning. That didn’t happen today. It just shows you that whenever that happens, it kind of bites you in the butt. But we have to move on and take tomorrow on. Take it inning by inning, get three outs as fast as possible and score some runs.”
All four runs in the eighth inning were unearned.
It would have been just the second time LSU suffered a loss to an in-state opponent in a regional held in Baton Rouge. (UL-Lafayette beat the Tigers at Alex Box in 2002.)
But in the end, the four errors were too much to overcome, despite Cutura’s effort.
Take away the errors, and the first-year coach says his team likely would’ve pulled off the upset on Friday.
“Yeah, but usually that’s how it is in the game of baseball,” Riser said. “If you play clean baseball, you do get the win. ... So nine times out of 10 in the game of baseball, that’s why we preach fundamentals. We practice it to our guys in practice, day in and day out. We did it all this week as well. At the end of the day, just one inning got us.”