OMAHA, Neb. -- The seventh-seeded LSU baseball team saw its remarkable season come to an end on Friday night as second-seeded North Carolina eliminated the Tigers from the 2008 NCAA College World Series on a ninth-inning grand slam by catcher Tim Federowicz that gave the Tar Heels a 7-3 win at Rosenblatt Stadium.
LSU concluded the year with a 49-19-1 record and the most wins since the 2000 team won 52 games. The Tigers, who once held a 6-11-1 record in Southeastern Conference play, completed one of the most incredible turnarounds in league history that saw the squad win the SEC Western Division, the SEC Tournament, the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional and the NCAA Baton Rouge Super Regional.
The turnaround was sparked by an SEC record 23 consecutive wins that began on April 22 at Tulane. During that stretch, LSU rallied for come-from-behind victories in 18 of those games and drew record crowds in the final games at Alex Box Stadium.
North Carolina (53-13) advanced to face Fresno State in the bracket two championship at 6 p.m. Saturday. The Tar Heels must defeat the Bulldogs twice to reach the CWS championship series that begins Monday at 6 p.m.
“My overwhelming emotion is that I’m hurting very badly because the team gave everything and left it all on the field,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “ We ran out of miracles. I’ll look back on the season with fond thoughts, but it hurts right now. Our kids competed as hard as they could and obviously we want the season to go on forever, but tonight it came to a halt.
“North Carolina deserves to move on. They are a very well-coached team with outstanding pitching and they were a little bit better than we were tonight.”
LSU junior pitcher Louis Coleman (8-1) suffered his first loss of the season, allowing the grand slam in the eighth and issuing three hits in three innings of relief. Coleman walked two and struck out six after entering in the seventh following Jared Bradford.
UNC shortstop Ryan Graepel drilled a one-out double to the right field gap, and Coleman intentionally walked leadoff hitter Dustin Ackley, who stepped to the plate 4-for-4 with four singles. A wild pitch moved the runners into scoring position, and Coleman issued his second intentional walk of the frame to right fielder Tim Fedroff, the No. 3 hole hitter. Federowicz then lifted a 1-1 offering over the left field fence for his first career grand slam and a 7-3 decisive Tar Heel advantage.
LSU was held to four hits by a combined five Tar Heel pitchers, including Alex White (12-3). White, who defeated the Tigers in the CWS opening round, recorded his second victory of the tournament, tossing two innings and allowing no runs on one hit.
Bradford began the day on the mound for LSU as play resumed at 6:09 p.m. after Thursday’s postponement. UNC held a 2-0 lead with one out and the bases loaded. Bradford inherited an 0-1 count on designated hitter Garrett Gore and induced a 5-4-3 double play groundball to retire the side and end the threat.
Twenty-nine minutes later, the skies once again opened up and a heavy shower delayed the game at 6:38 p.m. Play resumed for a final time at 8:05 p.m. after a one-hour and 27 minute weather delay.
UNC reliever Colin Bates walked second baseman Ryan Schimpf to open the bottom of the third inning, and two batters later, centerfielder Jared Mitchell reached when shortstop Ryan Graepel botched a slow-rolling groundball. LSU was unable to capitalize when designated hitter Blake Dean popped out to left fielder Kyle Shelton, who came up firing and doubled off shortstop Michael Hollander at second base.
The Tar Heels plated another run in the fifth, but LSU avoided further trouble on a spectacular diving play by shortstop DJ LeMahieu. Federowicz rolled a groundball in the hole at shortstop that drove in Graepel, but LeMahieu dove to his right and from his knee threw out a runner at second to save a run.
In the sixth, catcher Micah Gibbs ripped a one-out single up the middle for the Tigers’ first hit since LeMahieu’s RBI single in the second. First baseman Matt Clark then fell into an 0-2 hole and battled back to a 2-2 count before depositing a two-run blast into deep right centerfield to tie the game at 3-3. It marked his nation-leading 28th round tripper of the year and moved him into a tie for fourth place in LSU single-season homers, joining Eddy Furniss (1998) with 28.
Coleman entered to start the seventh and issued a single to Ackley before overpowering the heart of the UNC order. The hard-throwing right-hander kept the Tigers in the game like he had all season.
Mitchell reached for the second time via an error in the bottom of the eighth, and LSU loaded the bases with back-to-back walks by Gibbs and Clark. The Tigers, who looked to be on the verge of taking the lead, were unable to bring home the go-ahead run when LeMahieu popped up in the infield and centerfielder Leon Landry grounded out to shortstop.
White pitched around a one-out single by Schimpf in the ninth to preserve the 7-3 margin.
Bradford (10-5) concluded his career with an inspiring effort, limiting the Tar Heels to one run on four hits on two days rest from his previous start. He walked two and struck out five in 5.2 innings of relief of starter Blake Martin. Bradford finished his two-year career with a 20-8 record and 10 saves.
“What Jared did on two days’ rest is what legends are made of,” Mainieri said. “I’ll be telling LSU players about him for years to come.”
Mainieri reflected one last time upon the season before leaving Rosenblatt Stadium.
“I’m so proud of what this team accomplished this season,” Mainieri said. “I feel like we have talented kids with character who care about the right things. They are a credit to LSU baseball and to our university, and it’s an honor to be their coach.”
North Carolina 7, LSU 3 (Jun 19, 2008 at Omaha, Neb.)
North Carolina...... 200 010 004 - 7 9 2 (53-13)
LSU...................... 010 002 000 - 3 4 0 (49-19-1)
Pitchers: North Carolina - Matt Harvey; Colin Bates(3); Brian Moran(5); Rob Wooten(7);
Alex White (8). LSU - Blake Martin; Jared Bradford (1); Louis Coleman (7).
Win-Alex White (12-3) Loss-Louis Coleman (8-1) T-3:15 A-30422
HR NC - Tim Federowicz (5).
HR LSU - Matt Clark (28).
Wooten, R faced 1 batter in the 8th.