The LSU baseball team came from behind and scored four runs in the eighth inning to beat Sam Houston State 8-5 and move into the driver’s seat of the Baton Rouge Regional of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night in Alex Box Stadium.
The Tigers (54-9), who trailed 5-1 after an error-plagued first inning and 5-4 entering the eighth, advanced to the championship game at 7 p.m. Sunday. They will face the winner of a 2 p.m. elimination game between the Bearkats (38-21) and Louisiana-Lafayette, which eliminated Jackson State 15-1 Saturday afternoon.
LSU needs one more win to advance to a super regional and the survivor of Sunday’s elimination game would have to beat the Tigers on Sunday and again in a rematch Monday.
The late rally in front of the largest crowd in LSU history (10,752) made a winner of Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year Aaron Nola (11-0), who pitched seven innings and was victimized by a season-high five errors. He allowed five unearned runs in the first and lowered his 1.94 ERA. Chris Cotton pitched the final two innings for his school record-tying 16th save.
The day started on a positive note for LSU as shortstop Alex Bregman and left fielder Raph Rhymes were both given medical clearance to play after being injured when they collided as Bregman caught a pop-up in the fourth inning of LSU’s 11-7 victory against Jackson State on Friday.
The winning rally in the eighth began when Bregman singled with one out, his third hit. Mason Katz walked and Bregman scored the tying run when shortstop Carter Burgess misplayed Rhymes’ grounder on a hit-and-run.
Christian Ibarra was hit by a pitch and Katz scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch. After JaCoby Jones was intentionally walked, Ty Ross’ RBI single made it 7-5. Pinch hitter Alex Edward’s bases-loaded walk forced in the final run.
LSU scored a run in the top of the first, but should have had more. With one on and one out, Bregman launched a long fly to right-center field that bounced off a batting cage behind the fence and bounced back into play for a double. The umpires conferred and ruled that the ball never cleared the fence.
Eventually the Tigers settled for Ibarra’s based-loaded walk rather than a two-run homer.
In the bottom half, Nola had his roughest inning of the season, thanks in large part to what may have been LSU’s worst defensive inning of the season.
Leadoff hitter Jessie Plumlee reached on an error by Ibarra at third and went to second on a wild pitch. Plumlee advanced on a grounder and scored the tying run when Bregman misplayed Anthony Azar’s RBI grounder to short for an error.
Kevin Miller doubled Azar to third and Azar scored the go-ahead run on Ryan O’Hearn’s sacrifice fly. Luke Plucheck reached on Ibarra’s two-base error, sending home Miller. Burgess doubled home Plucheck to make it 4-1.
After pinch hitter Hayden Simerly walked, Ryan Farney’s single made it 5-1. It almost got worse for the Tigers, but center fielder Andrew Stevenson made a diving catch of Plumlee’s line drive in left-center to end the inning. All five runs were unearned.
LSU cut the deficit in half in the second. Ross led off with a single to center, Stevenson walked and Sean McMullen singled to load the bases with none out. Jared Foster’s RBI grounder made it 5-2 and Bregman’s infield single made it 5-3.
In the Tigers third, Jones drew a one-out walk, Ross reached on Burgess’ error at short and Stevenson beat out a bunt to load the bases. McMullen’s RBI-grounder made it 5-4. McMullen appeared to strain a hamstring on the play and he was replaced as the designated hitter by Tyler Moore.