Eight innings before Anthony Marks touched home plate for the most important run in Big South Conference history Sunday night, the Coastal Carolina leadoff man knocked a grounder to the right side to begin LSU’s 4-3 loss that ended its season.
The ball rolled into the hole, two Tigers ranging for it without communication. It was hit toward second baseman Cole Freeman. First baseman Greg Deichmann ranged to his right, too, leaving no one but starting pitcher Jared Poché to cover the bag.
Marks easily outran Poché, who finished his delivery near the third base side of the mound.
“If I can get to the ball, I’m supposed to call (Deichmann off); and if I don’t think so, I’ve got to let him try to make the play,” Freeman said. “Everything happens so fast. Just miscommunication. Those plays have to be made, but they just weren’t tonight.”
After two wild pitches, the final coming via Poché’s buried breaking ball to strike out cleanup man Zach Remillard, Marks scored the game’s first run.
This was Freeman’s sixth NCAA tournament game. Deichmann’s, too. Much had been made of this LSU team, which replaced eight of nine everyday starters in its lineup, and its lack of postseason experience.
All involved scoffed at the label before the Baton Rouge regional. Sixty games and the Southeastern Conference had seasoned the rookies, they said.
Jake Fraley was the lone LSU returning position starter. Before racing home, Marks advanced to second following a deep fly ball the Tigers center fielder caught but did not throw in quickly enough, allowing the leadoff man to tag up.
“If we had played more fundamentally sound,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, “I think we’d be playing (Monday). But I’m the one that takes responsibility for that. I work with them; we work with them; the staff works with them, but they have to on game day be able to go out there and do it. We’ve got to get them to the point where they can do that.”
LSU committed two errors — Freeman bobbled a routine grounder to lead off the seventh, and shortstop Kramer Robertson threw one away to start the eighth — both blunders coming while closer Hunter Newman pitched.
Neither led directly to a run, but they taxed the Tigers closer, who had thrown more than 40 pitches just three times all season.
Michael Paez, a strikeout victim in each of his previous three at-bats, bounced Newman’s 43rd pitch, a curveball, over Chris Reid’s head at third base for the game-winning single. It scored Marks, whom Newman had walked on seven pitches.
Newman walked three in his two-inning outing. He had walked one in his past 11 innings and none in his past seven.
“I knew I had to come out and throw a zero on the board, and that leadoff walk hurt me the most,” Newman said after the game. “I’ve got to be better than that. They’re a great team. That leadoff walk put me in a hole right there.”
Paez’s hit included, opponents still batted just .164 off Newman, a tall, slender junior who calmly captured the closer’s role after freshman Caleb Gilbert’s midseason switch. Newman’s an unflappable presence with a quiet demeanor, exerting emotion only when wiggling from jams.
A three-pitch, bases-loaded punchout of pinch hitter Tyler Chadwick in the eighth prompted such a display, eliciting a yell and fist pump one inning before his team’s season ended.
“I didn’t really want to go to him too early, but we were in kind of a desperate situation, and we just had to,” Mainieri said. “We wouldn’t even be close to being in the position we were in if it wasn’t for what that kid has done for our team this year. Anybody that wants to blame him for this loss, going to have to speak to me about that, because I would defend that kid to the end of time. He showed so much courage all year and did such a wonderful job.”
There were few places to place heaps of blame. Newman surrendered the game-winning hit. Fraley, the team’s only returning position player from the 2015 College World Series participants, left three runners on base. His team, as a whole, stranded 12 — including eight in the last three innings. The Tigers popped out seven times with runners in scoring position.
It was Fraley’s tenaciousness, though, that tied the score. Tasked with dropping a sacrifice bunt with two men on and facing a 2-0 count in the ninth inning, Fraley missed on his first attempt but laid it down on the next pitch.
Playing in what turned out to be his final collegiate game, Fraley barrelled over Chanticleers first baseman Kevin Woodall Jr. The ball dislodged, allowing Freeman to sprint home from second as the tying run.
Robertson moved runners into scoring position with a fly ball. Greg Deichmann, on a six-game hitting streak with four home runs in the NCAA tournament, was walked to load the bases.
Brody Wofford, in his third NCAA tournament at-bat, struck out in a full count. Beau Jordan popped the next pitch up. The threat was extinguished.
“The stage was big tonight. And you know, just some of the miscommunications and just not recognizing situations, that might have been more of an excuse with inexperience,” Mainieri said. “But we’ve played 70 games or so. At this point, we should be playing the game the right way and doing the little things.
“And again, you know, I just — I take responsibility for that.”
Ross Dellenger contributed to this report.