AUBURN, Ala. — One hour and 41 minutes before he crushed a triple that solidified LSU’s 8-3 win against Auburn, freshman Tre’ Morgan tripped over first base.
Morgan thought the third of his four hits Thursday night was nothing more than a single, but first base coach Hunter Kiel pointed toward second base. Morgan tried to turn. Instead, he tumbled over the bag and crumpled to the ground.
“When I hit the ground,” Morgan said, “I thought it was bad.”
As Morgan knelt near first base, coach Paul Mainieri and athletic trainer Cory Couture rushed to him. The last thing LSU could afford to lose during its final NCAA tournament push was Morgan. He had become one of the Tigers’ best players, a first baseman who has saved countless errors with his footwork around the bag and a hitter who looks nothing like someone going through the Southeastern Conference for the first time.
“My heart stopped for about a minute,” Mainieri said.
The coach and athletic trainer leaned over Morgan as the group talked. Then he stood and stretched. Morgan jogged down the foul line, shaking out a limp. He stayed in the game.
“Once I was down there for a couple seconds,” Morgan said, “I started getting feeling back in my leg.”
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Three innings later, LSU led 5-3 with two outs in the eighth. Morgan approached the plate with runners on first and second. He drove a pitch into right-center field. The ball collided against the wall. Two runs scored.
Morgan sprinted toward third base, trying to beat the throw. The ball hit him in the back as he began his slide. Morgan had recorded his fourth triple this season. He pumped his arms.
Morgan finished 4 for 5 with two RBIs, one run scored and a stolen base. He raised his batting average to .375, the highest on the team, as LSU (28-17, 8-14 SEC) won the first game of a weekend series at Hitchcock Field, helping its postseason chances.
Since 1999, SEC teams with 13 conference wins have a 36% chance of making the NCAA tournament. LSU got one game closer to the threshold.
“Tre’s been doing it all year,” Mainieri said. “I don’t even know what to say about him anymore. It seems every day he’s doing something to top something he did the day before.”
As well as Morgan played, he couldn’t win the game alone. Locked in a scoreless tie after two innings, sophomore catcher Alex Milazzo hit a leadoff double, his second extra-base hit in as many games. With sophomore catcher Hayden Travinski out for the season, Milazzo needed to provide more offense — he was batting .173 — to complement his defensive prowess.
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Milazzo soon reached third, and when Dylan Crews hit a weak ground ball toward Auburn third baseman Rankin Woley, Milazzo made him second-guess the play by taking a few steps toward home plate.
As Milazzo retreated to third, Crews reached safely, loading the bases. Milazzo scored on a hit batter, then Cade Doughty singled and Giovanni DiGiacomo knocked a sacrifice fly. LSU pulled ahead 3-0. It missed an opportunity for more as Jordan Thompson grounded into a double play.
Auburn (19-22, 5-17) slowly chipped away. Junior Landon Marceaux allowed an RBI single in the bottom of the third. Later, after LSU tacked on another run from Drew Bianco’s two-out single in the sixth, Auburn right fielder Steven Williams homered in the bottom of the inning.
LSU held a 4-2 lead entering the seventh. Right-hander Garrett Edwards and left-hander Javen Coleman threw in the bullpen. Marceaux had tossed 96 pitches. He returned to face Auburn one more time.
Marceaux struck out the leadoff hitter for his 11th strikeout of the game. The next batter, catcher Ryan Dyal, homered to center field in a full count. It was Dyal’s second home run this season. It marked the end of Marceaux’s start.
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"I didn't have the fastball command I would have wanted, but there's going to be nights you have to gut it out and do what you can," said Marceaux, who allowed three runs over 6 ⅓ innings. "Tonight, that's what I had to do."
Mainieri signaled for Coleman, who had made one SEC appearance, as shortstop Ryan Bliss approached the batter’s box. Bliss already had two doubles. He recorded another one. Then Bliss reached third on a balk, bringing the tying run 90 feet from home plate.
Coleman faced first baseman Tyler Miller, who had a .340 batting average and 12 home runs. Coleman struck out Miller on three pitches. LSU brought in Edwards to face Wooley, a right-handed hitter. Edwards induced a pop-up to end the inning with LSU’s lead intact.
“That would’ve been a hard one-run lead to hold onto against that team,” Mainieri said.
Edwards didn't have to. In the top of the eighth, Auburn walked the bases loaded. Milazzo stepped to the plate. He fell behind 0-2 in the count. Then he hit a sacrifice fly, giving LSU a two-run lead.
“I knew those two runs weren’t going to be enough,” Morgan said. “It was a close, hardfought game.”
So the third pitch of his at-bat, Morgan smashed his triple. The hit gave Edwards plenty of insurance as he pitched two scoreless innings of relief, bringing LSU a small step closer to the postseason.
After the final out, LSU’s players gathered in shallow right field. Morgan stayed near the dugout. “Yeah, Tre!” someone shouted from the stands. He had to conduct a television interview.