Baseball Rally Falls Short, Season Ends
LOS ANGELES - UC Irvine pitching limited the second-seeded Tigers to three runs and Anteater left fielder Drew Hillman went 3-for-3 as UC Irvine eliminated LSU, 4-3, from the NCAA Los Angeles Regional Sunday afternoon in Jackie Robinson Stadium.
The Tigers finished the season with a 41-22 record, an SEC Tournament Championship and the school's 24th NCAA Tournament appearance. UC Irvine (39-20) advanced to face UCLA in the finals of the NCAA Los Angeles Regional. If the Anteaters defeat UCLA Sunday night, the teams will meet again Monday at 6 p.m. PT.
"My life has been enriched by the experiences I've had with these players, and I'm very proud of the way they represent LSU," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "We fell just short today, but it doesn't diminish what our kids have accomplished. Our seniors - Blake Dean, Paul Bertuccini and Matt Gaudet - have meant so much to our program, and we will miss them greatly. Some of our underclassmen will be leaving early for pro baseball, so in a way it's the end of an era and next year will start a new era.
"Fortunately, we have a strong core of players back and we'll continue play at a championship level at LSU."
Irvine starter Evan Brock (6-4) earned the victory for the Anteaters after allowing three runs on seven hits in six innings of work with no walks and seven strikeouts. LSU starter Ben Alsup was charged with the loss after allowing three runs on five hits in 4.1 innings.
UC Irvine took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when designated hitter Jordan Leyland slapped an RBI single into right field. Leyland's single advanced Drew Hillman to third before Ryan Fisher attempted a suicide squeeze with one out. Fisher's shallow bunt was fielded by Gibbs in time to tag Hillman before he crossed the plate. The Anteaters loaded the bases in the inning before Alsup forced Sean Madigan to ground out to end the UC Irvine threat in the second.
The Anteaters extended their lead to 2-0 in the fourth when Fisher hit into a fielder's choice with the bases loaded to plate Francis Larson from third. With Leyland on third, D.J. Crumlich grounded out to Nola at shortstop, allowing Leyland to score, putting UC Irvine ahead 3-0 in the fourth.
Senior right-hander Paul Bertuccini entered the game for LSU in the fifth with one out and a runner on third. Bertuccini forced Cusick to groundout and then Leon Landry made an incredible diving catch on a line drive by Larson to end the inning with no runs allowed.
The Tigers got on the board in the top of the sixth when Dean launched a solo homer to right-center off Irvine starter Evan Brock to cut the Anteater lead to 3-1. The homer was Dean's 12th of the season.
Irvine responded in the bottom of the frame when Hillman led off the sixth inning with a solo homer off Bertuccini to increase the Anteater lead to 4-1. The homer was Hillman's third of the season.
LSU responded in the top of the seventh when Landry and Alex Edward led off the inning with back-to-back doubles, making the score 4-2. Irvine reliever Kyle Necke entered the game for Brock after Edward's double. The first batter Necke faced was Gaudet, who lifted a deep sac fly to center, allowing Edward to tag to third.
The next batter, Tyler Hanover, roped a single into right field, scoring Edward and pulling the Tigers within one at 4-3. The next batter, Trey Watkins, hit a scorcher back to the mound, but Necke turned a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Sophomore right-hander Matty Ott entered the game for LSU in the seventh and retired UC Irvine in order with a groundout, strikeout and fly out. Ott allowed no runs on only one hit in two innings of relief with no walks and three strikeouts.
The Tigers threatened in the ninth when Edward led off the game with a single up the middle. Irvine reliever Nick Hoover forced Gaudet to ground into a 4-6-3 double play and then forced Hanover to pop out to Larson behind the plate to end the game.
LSU head coach Paul Mainieri
(Opening Statement): "This is always a very difficult press conference. First of all, congratulations to Irvine. Today was their day and they deserved it, they earned it. We fought right to the very end. We were going to win the game today. We had our opportunities. Their kid that started the game (Evan Brock) was really good. He baffled us with his change-up . He had a heck of a change-up. We finally started to get onto him, but we just couldn't quite get over the hump. (Trey) Watkins hit that ball that hooked foul at the last second that would have been a two-run homer. (Tyler) Hanover smoked one down the left-field line that was foul by about a foot and that would have been two more runs. You just start to feel like it was just not meant to be. I think our kids played real hard and gave it all they had. They also gave us a chance to win. We pitched well enough to win, but so did Irvine. We had that situation in the eighth inning with first and second with nobody out and we had the three guys coming up who we wanted up. But their kid got us out and credit to him. The bottom line is, we lost the game and our season is over but the hardest thing for me personally is knowing that it's the last time that I'm going to get to coach kids like these two (Blake Dean and Leon Landry). It's always hard for a coach when you love kids and you have to say goodbye to them."
(On having to travel to Los Angeles for NCAA Regionals): "It was a unique experience for our players. We've hosted regionals so often that the reality is we just didn't get done what needed to get done to host and we have nobody to blame but ourselves. But when you don't host and you're a No. 2 seed and you get sent to a tournament as difficult as this one, what happens is you run up against a kid on game two like we faced last night. When you're at home and you're hosting sometimes pitching matchups end up a little bit different. Usually what happens is the two and three seeds have to burn up their best guy in that first game so you have a bit of an advantage when you are the one seed. It didn't happen for us this year. We got what we earned and deserved and that was to come out west to a very difficult tournament. But it's also an experience for these kids that they will never forget."
LSU Centerfielder Leon Landry
(On UC Irvine pitcher Nick Hoover getting out of a jam in the eighth inning): "He just came in and he had some good stuff. He spot the ball up well and he's just a tough pitcher. You have to tip your hat to the guy. I think we battled hard. We gave it all we had, but it just wasn't enough today and unfortunately it brought a halt to our season. I wish we could have found that extra run we needed to keep the game going because I thought we were going to pull that one off. It's just a heartbreaker."
LSU First Baseman Blake Dean
(Summarizing his career): "I've enjoyed my time at LSU very much. I think one of the better decisions I've ever made was to go to LSU and experience the things that I have. Coach Mainieri and I have gone through a lot. This team was unbelievable. I've enjoyed every one of those guys out there. Anytime, anyplace I'd be there for them. I just wanted to come out every year and do my part, try my best and give my teammates the best I've had. We just fell short this year."