OMAHA, Neb. -- The LSU baseball team simply refuses to see its season come to an end. All-America designated hitter Blake Dean lined a three-run, walk-off double off the left field wall to lift the seventh-seeded Tigers to a dramatic 6-5 College World Series win over sixth-seeded Rice on Tuesday afternoon at Rosenblatt Stadium.
The Tigers (49-18-1), who entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 5-2, registered their 30th come-from-behind win of the season and their third ninth-inning comeback in Omaha. LSU also snapped a five-game College World Series losing streak.
“For us, what a monumental win,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “We’ve had a lot of games that looked like they were lost, but our kids keep battling until the end. There are so many heroes in a game like this with Blake obviously getting the game winner. It was just a great team effort in the end.”
Dean’s heroics brought back memories of Armando Rios’ game-tying double versus Long Beach State in the 1993 CWS, a contest LSU went on to win. Warren Morris’ game-winning homer in the 1996 CWS championship game was the other time the Tigers had come from behind in the final frame at Rosenblatt.
The comeback also gave Mainieri a flashback to his previous CWS experience with Notre Dame. Six years ago to the day, his Irish team eliminated Rice with a walk-off homer in the 2002 College World Series.
“It was an amazing win, a great team win,” Mainieri said. “Personally, it was a lot like déjà vu six years ago I had a similar win in the College World Series with Notre Dame. I am a lucky person to be so blessed.”
On Thursday at 6 p.m., LSU will face North Carolina, a 5-3 loser to Fresno State late Tuesday. Junior left-hander Blake Martin (5-3, 4.89) is scheduled to start for the Tigers, who will be the home team.
Rice concluded its season with a 47-15 record and saw its three-game winning streak against the Tigers come to an end. The Owls had ended LSU’s season in 2005 at the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional.
Right fielder Derek Helenihi started the comeback when he drove a one-out Cole St. Clair pitch up the middle for his third single of the day. Pinch hitter Sean Ochinko fell into an 0-2 hole and was then hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second with the Tigers trailing 5-2.
Senior shortstop Michael Hollander followed and grounded a clutch single into centerfield to load the bases. LSU benefited on an error when shortstop Rick Hague misplayed a Jared Mitchell groundball that allowed Helenihi to score and close the gap to 5-3.
With the bases loaded, Dean kept LSU’s magical season alive when he ripped a 1-0 offering over the left fielder’s head. Pinch runner Chris McGhee scored, Hollander raced home and Mitchell on the heels of Hollander came charging home with his hands in the air for the winning margin, 6-5 in favor of LSU.
“There was no doubt in our minds we could do it,” Dean said. “We’ve done this so often before that believing is not the issue. We just needed that little bit extra, and we got it done today.”
St. Clair (10-3) absorbed the heartbreaking loss, allowing six runs four earned on seven hits in 2.2 innings. For his career, Rice’s key reliever had issued 12 runs in four innings of work against LSU. The Tigers had scored six on St. Clair during the 2005 season.
LSU junior Louis Coleman (8-0) was brilliant in relief again, working two scoreless innings to pick up his eighth win of the year. Starter Jared Bradford turned in a valiant effort, allowing five runs on seven hits in 6.2 innings. He walked two and struck out a season-high 10 batters on 106 pitches.
Meanwhile, LSU was shutdown offensively into the sixth inning by Rice starter Chris Kelley. Kelley blanked the Tigers for 5.2 frames and limited LSU to four hits while walking none and striking out three.
The Owls took the momentum and built a 2-0 lead after two innings. Bradford walked Luna to start the second. After a fielder’s choice, right fielder Chad Mozingo put a pair of runners in scoring position when he doubled off the left field wall. Shortstop Rick Hague followed and connected on a two-run single into left field.
Left fielder Aaron Luna launched Bradford’s first-pitch offering in the third over the left field wall to make it 4-0 Rice. Luna was previously batting .111 in NCAA postseason play with no RBI.
In the seventh, pinch hitter Nick Pontiff, in his first CWS at-bat, ripped a one-out single into centerfield. Helenihi received the benefit of a tough hop at shortstop for a single, and the Tigers plated their first run when St. Clair was called for a balk.
LSU saw the glimpse of a rally come to an end in the eighth. Gibbs drove Mitchell in with a double just inside the right field line to cut the lead to 5-2. Shortstop DJ LeMahieu nearly drove in another run with a single to right but Mozingo came up firing and threw out a diving Gibbs at the plate.
LSU 6, Rice 5 (Jun 17, 2008 at Omaha, Neb.)
Rice................ 020 011 100 - 5 10 3 (47-15)
LSU................. 000 000 114 - 6 11 0 (49-18-1)
Pitchers: Rice - Chris Kelley; Cole St.Clair(6). LSU - Jared Bradford; Paul Bertuccini(7); Louis Coleman(8).
Win-Louis Coleman(8-0) Loss-Cole St.Clair(10-3) T-3:02 A-19103
HR RICE - Aaron Luna (10).
NCAA Men’s College World Series
Game 7 Quotes (Rice vs. LSU)
Hall of Fame Room, Rosenblatt Stadium
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
LSU Head Coach Paul Mainieri
(opening statement): “For us, what a monumental win. We’ve had a lot of games that looked like they were lost, but our kids keep battling until the end.”
“It was an amazing win, a great team win. Personally, it was a lot like déjà vu six years ago I had a similar win in the World Series with Notre Dame. I am a lucky person to be so blessed.”
LSU designated hitter Blake Dean
(about Rice reliever Cole St. Clair): “I don’t think I saw a fastball all game until they brought in the lefty (St. Clair). He owned me with fastballs during my first at-bat, and made me look ugly. That last at-bat he came at me and put a fastball right there and I went with it.”
(about if facing St. Clair for a second time in the ninth was easier): “I think so. You tend to get used to a pitcher the second time. He (St. Clair) is a big guy with a big curve... The first at-bat I got used to the curve, and the second time I went up looking for fastballs.”
(about if there was any doubt his team could come back): “There was no doubt in our minds. We’ve done this so often before that believing is not the issue. We just needed that little bit extra, and we got it done today.”
(about the ninth-inning comeback): “(Sean) Ochinko gets hit 0-2 and that’s all it takes. They gave us a little window of opportunity and we seized it.”
LSU outfielder Jared Mitchell
(about the play at the plate to end the eighth inning halting his team’s momentum): “We knew we still had three outs left... You have to play all 27 outs. The leadoff guy gets on (in the ninth) and then the next guy gets on and we started rolling again. It’s been like this all year long for us.”
Rice Head Coach Wayne Graham
(opening statement): “If you’re gonna play this game, you’re gonna be on the other side. It’s going to be tough. We gave it our best shot. You have to give credit LSU for fighting back. It was a great effort for them to come from behind like that.”
(about leaving Cole St. Clair in the game to face Michael Hollander in the 9th inning): “Cole had been effective vs. Hollander. They had nothing but left handers coming up. I chose, and obviously I will be second-guessing myself until next year, or at least until next fall, I chose to go left-on-left. I thought the guys he would be getting out would be primarily left handed. We’ll live with it.”
(about Rice’s defensive errors): “Sometimes we’re trying to do too much. We should be getting outs, but we’re trying to do too much. They’re trying as hard as they can. They’re not in the big leagues yet. Some of these guys will be eventually.”
(about losing): “It’s not new to me. That’s the way the game is. You take the good and the bad. Sometimes it loves you back.”
Rice relief pitcher Cole St. Clair
(about Rice’s defensive errors): “At every level of the game, there are going to be errors. It’s not a lack of effort. It’s a team loss.”
(about his performance): “I left strong. I felt like I was making good pitches. They put the ball where our defenders couldn’t get to it.”
Rice catcher Adam Zornes
(about Cole St. Clair): “He’s been our guy all year. He’s the one we want out there. It’s unfortunate.”
Rice starting pitcher Chris Kelley
(about giving the ball to Cole St. Clair): “I never had a problem giving the ball to Cole. He’s been a hero for us all year. Unfortunately this time it didn’t work out.”
NCAA Men’s College World Series
Game 7 Notes (#6 Rice vs. #7 LSU)
Tuesday, June 17, 2008 (Attend: 19,103)
With the win, LSU will face the loser of tonight’s North Carolina/Fresno State matchup Thursday night at 6 p.m., while Rice sees its season end with a 47-15 record.
Today’s game was the fifth come-from-behind win in the 2008 MCWS third straight dating back to Monday’s games- and fifth in the last six games of the 2007 MCWS
Today’s victory by LSU is the 37th time a game has been won in the bottom of the ninth inning and the first since 2005 MCWS. Today’s game is also the third game in this MCWS decided on a team’s last at-bat (also day one wins by Stanford and Georgia).
It was the second straight game decided by one run in the 2008 MCWS and the 232nd all-time at the MCWS
LSU is making its 14th appearance in the Men’s College World Series all since 1986 - and its first trip to Omaha since consecutive appearances since 2003 and 2004. LSU’s 14th appearances ranks 10th all time while the Tigers’ 30 wins ranks ninth all-time. LSU is 30-18 all-time at the MCWS
Today’s win was LSU’s first at the MCWS since its 2000 national championship game also won in the bottom of the ninth, snapping a five-game losing streak at the MCWS.
LSU’s Paul Mainieri is the seventh coach to take two difference teams to the MCWS as he took Notre Dame to the 2002 MCWS (a complete list of the coaches who took two different teams to the MCWS is on page 171 of the MCWS media guide). Mainieri’s other MCWS win also came against Rice on June 17, 2002, a game that was won in the bottom of the ninth. He is now 2-3 all-time at the MCWS.
LSU now has 30 come-from-behind victories this season, including 19 of their last 26 wins dating back to April 22. In that stretch, the Tigers are 26-2.
LSU also snapped a four-game postseason losing streak dating back to the 1997 MCWS, as the Owls won two games against the Tigers in both the 2005 Baton Rouge Regional and the 2002 Houston Super Regional. LSU now leads the all-time series, 12-11.
LSU is now 3-0 in NCAA Tournament elimination games this season, as they won two games over UC Irvine before today’s game against Rice
The Tigers improve to 4-11 this season when trailing entering the ninth inning this season.
Blake Dean went 2-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs against Rice and is hitting .441 (15-for-34) with a homer, five doubles and seven RBIs in eight NCAA Tournament game
Jordan Bradford’s 10 strikeouts against Rice was a season high, as he fanned nine over five innings against Tennessee on March 14. Bradford had only 10 strikeouts over his last six appearances (16 innings of work) dating back to May 15.
Louis Coleman earned the victory with two innings of one-hit, shutout ball and is 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA during the NCAA tourney
Rice falls to 10-13 all-time in its seven MCWS appearances with all of the appearances coming since 1997. It is only the third time that the Owls went 0-2 in Omaha (also 1997 and 2002)
Rice dropped consecutive games for the first time since also going 0-2 in the Conference USA Tournament. Rice had won all five of its Regional and Super Regional games before going winless in Omaha.
Rice was 41-1 when taking a lead into the ninth inning before losing to Rice this afternoon
Rice is now 12-0 in games that senior pitcher Chris Kelley started this year, while Kelley earned his first win since April 12. He has not allowed a homer in his last 32.2 innings of work and has allowed only three homers in 74.1 innings of work this season
Rice drops to 11-9 in one-run games this season
Cole St. Clair was 2-0 with a 0.93 ERA in three NCAA appearances and had allowed just two hits over 9.2 innings of work in the postseason before today. St. Clair had allowed just one earned run in 11.2 career innings in the MCWS before today.