June 6, 2009

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LSU Headed Back to Omaha

By Robert Stewart

Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com


Robert Stewart is a Baton Rouge native and rising junior at LSU, where he just finished his third semester in The Daily Reveille’s sports department and is going into his second summer term at the paper as a contributing writer. He has worked in the past as a sports contributor, sports staff writer and deputy sports editor. He will move up to sports editor in the fall. Robert has covered a variety of sports at LSU. Besides baseball, he has covered football, basketball, softball, track and field, soccer, tennis and volleyball. He has no allegiances to any professional baseball team but is a fan of North Carolina Tar Heels basketball, the New Orleans Saints, the New Orleans Hornets and the Indianapolis Colts. He is still waiting for a Saints berth in the Super Bowl...and will be waiting for a long time…


BATON ROUGE, La. – It wasn’t exactly his best stuff, but Louis Coleman (right) will take it anyway.


The LSU senior right-hander gave up three runs on nine hits in eight innings Saturday, leading LSU to a 5-3 win to sweep Baton Rouge regional. Coleman (13-2) battled his way through the eight innings, allowing at least one hit every inning except the seventh, but also countered with five strikeouts and no walks.


Freshman Matty Ott closed the ninth inning to send the Tigers to the College World Series and the predominantly LSU crowd of 9,651 into frenzied chants of L-S-U.


“Being my last start at LSU, I wanted to go out there and do something special, not only for the team, but for the fans too,” Coleman said. “I wanted to give it everything I had.”


The trip to Omaha is LSU’s second straight and 15th overall. The Tigers (51-16) entered the season with high expectations and a No. 1 preseason ranking after returning a core group from a 2008 team that won 23 straight games en route to the College World Series.


“Omaha, here come the Tigers,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri (left) said. “We’re going to go up to Omaha, and I know our fans are going to go up. We’re going to cook a lot of jambalaya and a lot of gumbo, feed a lot of people, bring a lot of Mardi Gras beads, and we’re going to have a lot of fun up there.”


LSU got the scoring started early.


Shortstop DJ LeMahieu led things off with a double to right field off Ryan Berry (7-2), and Ryan Schimpf drew a walk. After Blake Dean lined out to right field and Micah Gibbs drew another free pass, Mikie Mahtook drove LeMahieu home on a fielder’s choice for a 1-0 lead.


Rice (43-18) put up a threat in the bottom of the inning when Brock Holt picked up a single and Rick Hague was hit by a pitch. Chad Mozingo advanced the runners to second and third on a sacrifice bunt. But Coleman retired the next two batters he faced, including a strikeout on three pitches of Conference USA Player of the Year Anthony Rendon – a strikeout that drew a chorus of boos from the Rice fans.


Rendon’s fortunes turned even worse in the top of the second inning. While chasing down a popup in foul territory along the third base side, the star freshman came up limping after what appeared to be a collision with Hague. Rendon was carried off by several teammates and received an ovation from the crowd on his way to the dugout.


Junior Jimmy Camerota was moved from first base to third base to replace Rendon, and senior Jess Buenger came in to play first base. The start of the third inning marked the first time Rendon missed an inning all season.


“I haven’t gotten the prognosis yet,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said. “He seems a little uncertain himself. The umpire said he thought he clipped Hague. But he didn’t think he did. I’m not certain myself…We don’t know yet, but he could have a cracked ankle. Maybe a fracture.”


Holt (3 for 5) got Rice on the board with his 12th home run of the season, a solo shot to right-center field in the bottom of the third, to tie the game at 1.


“I’ve been seeing the ball well this whole weekend,” Hold said. “Yesterday I had put some good swings on the ball and nothing to show for it except for the last at-bat. I just tried to carry that on into today.”

The Tigers took the lead back in the top of the fourth inning when Derek Helenihi singled to score Jared Mitchell, who doubled to start the frame.


But Rice tied it again in the bottom of the fourth as Michael Fuda bunted home Diego Seastrunk. Seastrunk doubled and took third on Mahtook’s third error of the season. Fuda then laid down the bunt along the first-base line.


LSU took the lead for good in the fifth inning.


Schimpf walked for the second time, and Dean (right) rocked a double to center field to put runners at second and third with nobody out. Gibbs drove Schimpf home on a ground out, and Dean scored two batters later on a wild pitch by Berry, who won seven straight before losing both of his postseason starts.


“When you don’t throw a first-pitch strike or anywhere near the zone, it’s easy to take the first two or three pitches,” Berry said. “We understood their weaknesses and we tried to exploit them. But when you can’t get ahead of them in the count, they can sit back and wait all day.”


Helenihi added another run in the top of the sixth inning with his fourth home run of the season. Berry, who went five-plus innings with five runs, eight hits, four walks and six strikeouts, was pulled in the sixth for junior right-hander Jared Rogers after he hit LSU shortstop Austin Nola.


Rogers got out of the sixth inning without surrendering a hit. After LeMahieu sacrifice bunted Nola to third, Nola got caught in a pickle trying to run home on a Schimpf ground ball. Nola was eventually tagged out by Comerota. Rogers intentionally walked Dean with first base open, then got Gibbs to fly out to left field to escape the inning.


In all, Rogers tossed four scoreless innings while giving up only two hits.


Seastrunk cut Rice’s deficit to 5-3 in the bottom of his sixth with a solo home run to left field, his seventh on the season. But it would be the last run the Owls would score.


Rice’s season is done after a Conference USA tournament championship and a second-place finish in the conference regular-season standings.


Both sides seemed to agree after the game that the series didn’t belong in Baton Rouge – it belonged in Omaha.


“Rice is an unbelievable ballclub. It would have been nice to see them in Omaha because of how good they are,” Coleman said. “But at the same time, someone has to go to Omaha, and I’m glad it’s us.”


(photos of Louis Coleman and Paul Mainieri courtesy of LSU Media Relations Office)

(photo of Blake Dean by Jimmy Jones)