June 18, 2008


Another Tiger Thriller

LSU scores four in bottom of ninth to eliminate Rice


By Ben Trittipoe



OMAHA, Neb. – The “Kardiac Kids” of LSU did it again.


The Tigers overcame a 5-0 deficit and scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to stun Rice, 6-5, before 19,103 in Game 7 of the 2008 College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium.


LSU (49-18-1) advanced to meet the Fresno State-North Carolina loser on Thursday at 7 p.m ET. Rice (47-15) was eliminated from the tournament with the loss.


The rally in the ninth inning marked the second time LSU accomplished the feat in its last four games. The Tigers scored five runs in the top of the ninth June 8 to defeat UC Irvine, 9-7, in the second game of the Baton Rouge Super Regional. (photo of D.J. LeMahieu courtesy of LSU Media Relations Office)


“What a monumental win,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said after his Tigers won for the ninth time in their final at-bat and improved to 4-11 when trailing after eight innings. “We’ve had a lot of games this season that have looked like they were lost, but the kids just keep battling to the end. There are so many heroes in a game like this. It was just a total team effort.”


“If you’re going to play this game, you’re going to be on the other side once in a while and it’s going to be tough,” Rice head coach Wayne Graham said. “We gave it our best shot and had some good performances. We went with our best guys. Give credit to LSU for battling and coming back. They did a real good job.”


Trailing 5-2 and facing Rice left-handed closer Cole St. Clair (10-3) in his third inning on the mound, Derek Helenihi got a one-out single and went to second when pinch-hitter Sean Ochinko was hit by pitch. Michael Hollander followed with a single to score Helenihi, then Jared Mitchell loaded the bases as he reached on an error by Owls shortstop Rick Hague.


The final hero for LSU turned out to be designated hitter Blake Dean. Dean struck out against St. Clair in the eighth, but in the ninth, he got a pitch he could drive and hit it off the left-field wall. When the ball caromed past Rice’s Aaron Luna, Dean had a double and Mitchell had scored to complete the improbable comeback.


“I really don’t think these guys know what ‘quit’ means,” Mitchell said. “At one point in time, we were 6-11-1 in the SEC and basically at the bottom. We made a decision right there to play better or get ready to go home. It’s a pleasure to be in the dugout with these guys every day.”


The way Rice started, few in the stands were thinking an LSU comeback would be possible. The Owls got on the scoreboard in the top of the second inning as Hague singled to drive in two runs, and they made it 3-0 in the fifth as Jordan Dodson scored on a triple by Jared Gayhart. Luna added a solo home run – his 10th – in the sixth and Diego Seastrunk had a run-scoring single in the seventh to push the lead to 5-0.


Meanwhile, Rice right-hander Chris Kelley was shutting down the vaunted Tiger offense. Kelley blanked LSU on four hits, walking three and striking out two, over 5.2 innings, and 10 of his 17 outs recorded came on ground balls.


LSU finally broke through against St. Clair. Pinch-hitter Nicholas Pontiff singled with one out in the seventh, went to second on a wild pitch, moved to third on a bad hop single by Helenihi and scored on a balk. The Tigers pulled within 5-2 in the eighth as Micah Gibbs brought home an unearned run with a one-out double.


The late rally made a winner of Tigers reliever Louis Coleman (8-0), who allowed one hit and struck out two in two innings. Helenihi led LSU with three hits, while Luna, Hague and Chad Mozingo each had two hits for Rice.


Mainieri believes the Tigers still have not played their best in Omaha.


“I don’t think we played a great game today,” he said. “We haven’t come close to playing the caliber of baseball we’re capable of. There’s no doubt in my mind we will be ready to play Thursday night. Hopefully, we’ll find a way to win.”