BATON ROUGE -- Seventy years of history at Alex Box Stadium ended on Monday night at 10:01 p.m. -- and the next era will start on Sunday in Omaha. LSU's rapid ascent back to the top of college baseball continued with an NCAA Super Regional thumping of UC Irvine, 21-7, to advance to the NCAA College World Series for the 14th time.
“Omaha, here come the Tigers,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “I’ve been waiting to say that for so long, and I know that the Tiger Nation will follow us up there. Omaha, Nebraska, it just feels great to say. These kids would not be denied today, you could just see it. I went into the locker room about three hours before game time. They were loose, confident and having fun. There was not an ounce of nervousness in them. You could see the determination in their faces.”
A little over 24 hours earlier, LSU (48-17-1) was down to its final three outs and trailed the Anteaters (42-18) by three runs before staging a comeback for the ages that resulted in the Tigers setting up an NCAA Super Regional winner-take-all game. LSU carried the momentum from Sunday’s thriller into Monday night and closed out the grand old ballpark by securing the program’s first Omaha appearance since 2004.
A stadium record 8,173 fans packed into every available space to watch the 1,723rd and final game at “The Box” as LSU improved to 30-6 on championship day in NCAA postseason play. The actual attendance shattered the previous mark of 7,607 set against Texas A&M in the second game of the 2004 NCAA Baton Rouge Super Regional.
LSU will play North Carolina in the opening round of the 2008 NCAA College World Series at 6 p.m. Sunday. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN 2.
The Tigers connected for seven home runs and used a memorable six-run first inning that featured three consecutive blasts from designated hitter Blake Dean, catcher Micah Gibbs and first baseman Matt Clark. LSU added three more runs over the next two frames and put the game out of reach with a seven-run uprising in the fifth.
“It was the confidence level that these kids had tonight,” Mainieri said. “Back-to-back-to-back home runs in the first inning, I think it sent the message that we meant business. Nothing was going to stand in our way tonight.”
UC Irvine starter Bryce Stowell (8-3) entered the rubber game with a 2.77 ERA and a .236 opponent’s batting average. Stowell, who blanked Oral Roberts for seven innings in the NCAA Lincoln Regional, suffered his shortest outing of the season, allowing six runs – five earned -- without making it out of the first inning.
LSU tallied 21 runs – the most in an NCAA postseason game since posting 21 runs against UL-Monroe at the 2000 Baton Rouge Regional -- and the Tigers pounded a school postseason record 24 hits.
Dean tied a school record with five of those hits and became the first LSU player to reach the five-hit plateau since Ryan Patterson did so against Tennessee on May 14, 2005.
Third baseman Michael Hollander started the barrage when he drew a four-pitch, leadoff walk, and left fielder Jared Mitchell singled. A balk was then ruled on Stowell and Hollander came into score the first run. Dean immediately crushed an offering over the right field wall for a two-run homer. Gibbs followed and lined an opposite field, solo shot over the left field wall.
Clark gave the Alex Box faithful yet another memory when he lifted his nation-leading 26th homer over the left-centerfield wall to complete the back-to-back-to-back blasts.
The feat represented the second time LSU had homered in three consecutive at-bats this season and the first time in NCAA postseason play since Brad Cresse, Clint Earnhardt and Wes Davis did so against Mississippi State in the second inning of a 1998 College World Series contest.
Clark tied Eddy Furniss (1996) for sixth place in single-season home runs and matched Florida State’s Buster Posey for the national lead with his 26th dinger of the season.
Back-to-back doubles by Dean and Gibbs led to another run in the second, and Mitchell lined an RBI single through the right side in the third.
The 8-1 margin proved to be sufficient for LSU starter Blake Martin, who made his 17th start of the season. Martin worked into the fifth inning, issuing only two runs on five hits while striking out three and walking one.
After he exited, LSU put the game out of reach with seven runs in the bottom of the fifth. Second baseman Ryan Schimpf drove in three runs in the frame, launching a leadoff homer to start the inning and closing the scoring with a two-run double into the right field corner.
Right fielder Derek Helenihi added a two-run single and the Tigers took a 16-2 advantage into the later innings.
Junior right-hander Jordan Brown (5-0) inherited the lead and qualified for the victory, allowing two runs on four hits in two innings of relief.
Schimpf added his second homer in the seventh, a two-run blast that gave him five RBI for the game. Freshman outfielder Johnny Dishon connected for a solo shot in the same inning, and junior first baseman Buzzy Haydel, who replaced Clark, launched his first homer of the season in the eighth to punctuate the final homer in the stadium’s history and give the Tigers a 20-7 lead.
Dishon entered for centerfielder Leon Landry, who was hit in the eye by the ball while attempting to make another incredible catch in the fifth. Landry was OK after the game and should be ready to play Sunday.
Fittingly, Hollander, the Tigers’ lone senior position player, drove an RBI single through the left side in his final home at-bat that accounted for the final margin.
Freshman Anthony Ranaudo tossed the final inning and recorded the final out in Alex Box Stadium history when second baseman Tyler Hoechlin grounded out to the right-hander. Haydel earned the final putout and tossed the ball into the air to give the Alex Box faithful one lasting image.
“There was no other way to send this stadium out, except to go out there and get the job done,”Mainieri said. “I’m just so happy for the people who have invested so much into this program and their support. It makes us feel so great that they got one more night in the memorable stadium.”
LSU 21, UC Irvine 7 (Jun 09, 2008 at Baton Rouge, La.)
UC Irvine........... 001 010 230 - 7 13 2 (42-18)
LSU................... 612 070 32X - 21 24 1 (48-17-1)
Pitchers: UC Irvine - Stowell, Bryce; Bergman, Christian (1); Calahan, Tom (5); Slaught, Crosby (5); Avison, Noel (6); Dufour, Matt (7); Necke, Kyle (8).
LSU - Blake Martin; Jordan Brown (5); Ryan Byrd (7); Austin Ross (8); Anthony Ranaudo (9).
Win-Jordan Brown (5-0) Loss-Stowell, Bryce (8-3) T-3:54 A-8348
HR UCI - Deragisch, Eric (1); Bell, Dillon (5).
HR LSU - Blake Dean (20); Micah Gibbs (2); Matt Clark (26); Buzzy Haydel (1); Johnny Dishon (2); Ryan Schimpf 2 (12).
Weather: 93 degrees and partly cloudy
Actual attendance: 8,173
Largest actual attendance in Alex Box history.
Byrd faced 4 batters in the 8th.
UC Irvine vs. LSU
NCAA Baton Rouge Regional Tournament- Game 3
June 9, 2008
HEAD COACH PAUL MAINIERI
“Omaha, here come the Tigers! I’ve been waiting to say that for so long and I know that the Tiger nation will follow us up there. Omaha, Nebraska. It just feels great to say. These kids would not be denied to today, you could just see it. I went into the lockerroom about three hours before game time. They were loose, confident and having fun. There was not an ounce of nervousness in them. You could see the determination in their faces. It would have not mattered who we played today. It was a great ball club we played, Irvine. Obviously, I want to make a comment that I think Mike Gillespie is one of the all time great coaches in college baseball and he had a tremendous year. That is one of the most well coached team you will ever find and it was bad for them that we just had to go all the way tonight. The kids were fighting and would not let anything stand in their way. There was no other way to send this stadium out, except to go out there and get the job done. I’m just so happy for the people who have invested so much into this program and their support. It makes us feel so great that they got one more night in the memorable stadium.”
On the back-to-back home runs...
“It was the confidence level that these kids had tonight. Back-to-back home runs in the first inning, I think it sent the message that we meant business. Nothing was going to stand in our way tonight.”
On losing the winning streak in the SEC and losing the first game...
“The streak was great I wish we could have won 30 in a row. That would have been something great to talk about. Once we lost the ball game I told the kids that the idea is to win two out of three. That it didn’t matter in what order. The kids had their back against the wall and they responded.”
LSU PLAYER QUOTES
On his at-bats...
“I was just doing what I could to help out the team. It is hard to put into words, but as long as you can go up [to the plate] and do what you need to do, everything is going to work out.”
DH Blake Dean
On going to the plate...
“I was up there and everyone was on their feet, loud as usual. I guess I had to get a hit right there. You just can’t ask for anything else.
On the team this year...
“You dream about this your senior year and having a team like this with a great coach and great coaching staff. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God that I’m a part of a team and program like this playing at Alex Box Stadium in the final game in front of 7,000+ screaming, hollering and crazy fans. They are the greatest fans in the world.”
On the first inning...
“We started off with momentum going for us. A few of my hits were a little cheap and just snuck in there, but we came out and played the game the way we knew we could play all year. We didn’t do anything different. We didn’t push and we didn’t press, but we just played the way we knew how to play top-notch baseball.”
On getting a quick start against UC Irvine...
“Against a team like UC Irvine that is one of the things coach preached to us. We needed to get ahead and take them out of their game. Other than that, we were excited and knew we needed to jump on them earlier. It’s great to come out and put up a six spot.”
UC IRVINE HEAD COACH MIKE GILLESPIE QUOTES
“Congratulations to an outstanding Louisiana State University ball club. I think they demonstrated why they got on the roll they got on, and they really had a great night. They put a world class beating on us. I think (LSU head coach) Paul Mainieri has done a great job in a remarkably short period of time. It’s clear that what people have in this program at LSU is a genuine, true program. We know that (LSU athletics director) Skip Bertman is at the root of all the beginnings of this. He is the genesis of this program. Of course it has now continued with coach Mainieri.
“I actually think coach Smoke Laval deserves credit as well. I think if we go way back and remember, the folks who follow LSU and have followed LSU for a long time will remember that Smoke Laval was there at the beginning. He was part of the building of this program. The folks at LSU did a marvelous job organizing this regional. I think to organize a regional at this particular place with this size crowd, all the logistics that go with preparing this and organizing this, I think these folks deserve a ton of credit. They did a marvelous job.”
On if the team was flat today after LSU’s late-inning comeback victory in game two ...
“It really had a lot to do with the way the game played out. They (LSU) ran that six out there in the first inning and literally took our starter out of the game. If we were going to be able to contend in this tonight, we were going to have to have (starting P) Bryce Stowell pitch deep into the game, so it clearly had a dramatic effect on us.
“Don’t we wish there was a big storm that hit in the seventh inning yesterday, a real storm that would have stopped the game. I would not suggest that we had the life sucked out of us after yesterday. I was very confident in the belief that our guys would come out and compete. I have a hard time laying tonight’s result off what happened yesterday.”
UC-Irvine Player Quotes
SS BEN ORLOFF
On UC-Irvine’s 2008 season...
“First, we’d like to congratulate LSU and wish them good luck. We had a good year and these last two days don’t take away from what we did all year and we’re extremely proud of what we did. We wish we could’ve won one of these, but like I said, this doesn’t take away from what UC-Irvine did this year.”
On his career at UCI and the way they’ve played the last two seasons...
“The past two years we’ve been to Texas, Wichita, Nebraska and now here. It doesn’t get much better than that; to come to the biggest powerhouses in college baseball. I love it. We’ve had dog fights every time and have come out swinging – you can’t ask for anything else.”
C AARON LOWENSTEIN
On the game...
“I’m proud of my team that we were getting beat down pretty hard today and never gave up. We kept pushing and punching back, but unfortunately they were so far in front. I’m really happy with my guys today; we didn’t give up and that’s what we’re all about. We don’t quit until the last pitch.”
On if LSU’s comeback in Game 2 had anything to do with the game today...
“I don’t think so. We know that when we take our uniforms off we need to leave it all out on the field and move on. We know that we always need to be ready for tomorrow and we always look forward, never backward. It really had nothing to do with last night at all.”
On what happened during the confrontation in the first inning...
“A couple of the guys were saying some things to [P Bryce Stowell] after he was getting hit pretty hard and I just felt it was unnecessary. We got it straightened out. It was no big deal.”
On how tough it was to keep the pitchers calm in the first inning...
“I can’t tell you how it felt to be Bryce Stowell today, but with the way the crowd was I can tell you it was not easy. We talked about it yesterday and I just felt, since the coaches can’t always come out, that if somebody was in trouble we needed to meet out there and calm each other down and it didn’t work today. You’ve just got to tip your cap to LSU.”