HOOVER, Ala. — With all that LSU baseball has achieved, all the incredible victories and the occasional heartbreaking losses, it becomes harder year upon year to name a first or a best or a “Well, did you evah?” for this program.
But these 19 hours in Hoover from just after 8 p.m. Wednesday to just before 4 p.m. Thursday?
There has simply never been anything like it.
They’re likely to open the Morganza Spillway for just the third time in its existence for fear that floodwaters from the Mississippi River may overtop it. Well, if you tossed these two games into the mix, you’d have to open the floodgates even a wee bit earlier.
HOOVER, Ala. — Seven hours before he slid head-first across home plate Thursday afternoon to beat Auburn 4-3 in the ninth inning, Drew Bianco …
Two games filled to the brim with great plays, clutch hitting, gutsy pitching and yes, some painful defensive gaffes. The kind of mistakes that make baseball purists cluck their tongues and say, correctly, that it isn’t the pro game. But moments still that help make college baseball so compelling.
LSU did not survive a long night’s journey into darned-near dawn against Mississippi State, falling to the Bulldogs 6-5 in a 17-inning epic that took a record 6 hours, 43 minutes to complete. Not only did the loss shove the Tigers into the Southeastern Conference tournament’s loser’s bracket, but it forced LSU to turn around and return to Hoover Metropolitan Stadium less than eight hours after they left it for an elimination game against Auburn.
The Tigers didn’t leave the ballpark until about 3:30 a.m. and didn’t start getting to bed for a few fitful hours of sleep until about 4:30. By the time he pulled back the covers, LSU coach Paul Mainieri looked up and saw a replay of the game was on.
“I just laid there until breakfast,” Mainieri said. “I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.”
The question of the day was whether LSU could recover from such an emotionally punishing defeat and eliminate Auburn in a vitally important game for LSU’s hopes of hosting an NCAA regional next week.
Long about 3:30 p.m., 12 hours after they left the ballpark following the loss to State, it looked like the Tigers would be leaving the SEC tournament for good. LSU, clinging to a 1-0 lead much of the day, fell behind 2-1 and then 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth.
Desperate times resulted in the wildest of moments.
First, freshman Giovanni DiGiacomo, or Gio the Hero as he will be known the rest of his days at LSU, led off with a pinch-hit single. He took third on a single by Saul Garza, who gambled and lumbered to second (Garza does not run, he lumbers) to put two runners in scoring position.
Brandt Broussard, trying to atone for the bouncing ball from State’s Jake Mangum that he bobbled in the 16th Thursday morning, allowing the Bulldogs to re-tie LSU after a DiGiacomo sacrifice fly, barreled up a liner that tracked straight to left fielder Judd Ward. One out.
Up came Chris Reid to pinch hit for Hal Hughes. Out came the insanity.
The pitch from Brooks Fuller hit the dirt. Catcher Matt Scheffler kicked it blindly like a soccer ball, allowing DiGiacomo to score from third. Then first baseman Rankin Woley slid in and tried to make a desperate throw off his backside to Scheffler. Instead, the ball bounded heedlessly toward the Auburn dugout as Drew Bianco (pinch running for Garza), slid home with the game-winner.
Wednesday night, DiGiacomo tied the State game with a two-run home run that probably traveled 350 feet over the right-field fence. Thursday afternoon, LSU won on a wild pitch that might have stayed in the batters’ box had Scheffler not accidentally booted it.
LSU baseball lost to Mississippi State, 6-5, in a game that lasted more than six hours and ended in the 17th inning.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said shortstop Josh Smith, who was waiting in the on-deck circle.
“It was just a crazy series of events,” Reid said.
“I can’t recall in 37 years (as a head coach) that I’ve ever seen a walk-off win with two runs scoring on a wild pitch like we did,” Mainieri said.
That’s baseball. Two words that say so little but mean so much.
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WHATEVER IT TAKES pic.twitter.com/mlKxPwqfQM— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) May 23, 2019
Just how much do these two games mean to LSU’s postseason hopes? The Tigers (36-23) entered the Auburn game with the No. 21 RPI, actually four spots behind those other Tigers, whom they are now 3-1 against. The loss to RPI No. 4 Mississippi State shouldn’t have hurt much, and now LSU has 20 RPI top-50 wins, though they’re clinging to three of them because Kentucky has sunk to No. 50.
It may have to be enough, because barring another miracle-like finish it is likely to be all LSU will get. The Tigers play Friday night against the loser of Thursday’s late game between Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. More critically, to say LSU’s pitching is running on fumes would be rosy-tinted optimism.
“We’re a tired staff,” Mainieri said, the weariness seeping into his words.
After the postgame news conference, the Tigers were off for a well-deserved rest, sans wake-up call, with the crowded mental images from their unprecedented 19 hours in Hoover to help them drift off to sleep.
One can’t imagine what might be next.