June 4, 2010

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CBI Live
Watkins, LSU Win Wild One Over UC Irvine

By Ryan Eshoff

Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com


Ryan Eshoff is a rising junior at UCLA, a native of San Jose, and has seen more of California than is recommended. He has been on the sports staff of the Daily Bruin newspaper his entire UCLA career, spending the last year as an assistant sports editor and preparing to become a senior writer. He has covered the entire breadth of Bruin sports and considers himself, for better or worse, the world's foremost expert on UCLA water polo. In his less than copious amounts of free time, Ryan fights the East Coast bias and roots rabidly for the San Jose Sharks, the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Dodgers while wishing there was an NBA franchise in the Bay Area.


LOS ANGELES - Trey Watkins hasn’t had much of an impact recently.


The sophomore from LSU dislocated his elbow earlier in the year and was only able to return to a contributing role in the past two weeks.


But the 5-8 Tiger made his presence felt in a big way Friday, delivering a walkoff, two-run double in the bottom of the 11th inning to give second-seeded LSU a wild 11-10 win over third-seeded UC Irvine in the first game of the Los Angeles regional.


Watkins, who entered the game as a pinch-runner in the 10th, came up in the 11th after LSU loaded the bases with two outs. He drove a pitch from the Anteaters' Eric Pettis just over the outstretched glove of right fielder Sean Madigan at the warning track.


"I think I willed the ball over his glove," Watkins said. "I got excited rounding the bag at first and face-planted."


The hit capped a roller-coaster game that saw UC Irvine rally from a 7-3 deficit to grab a 9-8 lead in the ninth. LSU scored to send the game into extra innings, and it was the Anteaters who got on the board first in the top of the 11th when catcher Francis Larson dropped down a suicide squeeze. Pettis, who also had blown the lead in the ninth for Irvine, got the first two Tigers in the 11th before the rally started.


"I think that's the sign of a championship team, you score a lot of runs with two outs," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "I thought we were in pretty good shape there [early in the game], but we just couldn't hold them off."


Despite being known more as a small-ball team – its team leader has just eight home runs – UC Irvine was able to stay in the game via the long ball. Larson hit two, and left-fielder Ryan Fisher added one of his own.


The Anteaters appeared to grab all the momentum after scoring two runs in each of the last three innings to grab a one-run lead. But an ill-fated dive by Madigan on a bloop single by LSU's Austin Nola allowed the Tigers to score the tying run in the ninth.


"This was a difficult loss," UCI coach Mike Gillespie said. "A lot for us to be frustrated about."


With ace Daniel Bibona returning from injury to pitch for the Anteaters, and the Tigers starting tough right-hander Austin Ross, the game had all the makings of a pitchers’ duel in the early going – that is, until Larson hit his first home run in the second, only to see LSU score seven over the next three innings to chase Bibona.


It was the first start for the Anteaters’ lefty since coming back from a rib injury, and he had uncharacteristic command issues.


"I'm not sure he's had many games like that in his career," Mainieri said.


LSU will play the winner of Friday night's match-up between top-seeded UCLA and fourth-seeded Kent State. For a while though, both in the ninth and in the eleventh, it appeared that UC Irvine could complete the slight upset. Then the Tigers did their thing with two outs, getting three runners before Watkins came up to deliver the killing stroke.


"When he came up, I turned to my son Nick and said 'I know that Trey's going to hit a ball hard here,'" Mainieri said. "I just can feel it."