HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Southern Miss coach Scott Berry had seen LSU come back in the eighth inning the previous night against Kennesaw State, and as he watched the Tigers celebrate from the home dugout in the ninth inning against his own team on Saturday evening he had a prayer.
“You’re just hoping, ‘Dude, just hit somebody,'” Berry said.
The Tigers had won a toss before the game, which allowed them to plant their stakes as the home team despite being at the Golden Eagles’ Pete Taylor Park.
And now, in the ninth inning, they were running away with the game, which Southern Miss mastered to the bitter end. The Golden Eagles coach said he trusted his pitchers, that they brought them to this dance. But LSU’s four-point rally ruined the black-tie affair, tying the score in the ninth before heading home with a 7-6 victory in the 10th.
Jordan Thompson’s hard-ground ball into center field had capped the ninth-inning rally and tied the game, sending the game into extra innings.
In the 10th, Josh Pearson’s base-laden helicopter bounced high enough for Josh Stevenson to slide home for the win, sparking a celebration that brought the players out of the LSU dugout.
“It’s about competition,” Thompson said. “I look at the dugout and see everyone cheering, and I was just trying to pass for my team.”
The undefeated Tigers are in the championship round. At 6 p.m. Sunday, they will face the winner between Southern Miss and Kennesaw State, who play a playoff game at 1 p.m.
The winner of this game must defeat LSU twice – first Sunday night, then again Monday in a game if necessary. The champion will move on to super regionals, where he will face the winner of the Coral Gables field.
Going into Saturday night’s game, USM right-hander Hurston Waldrep was unimpressed with the Tigers’ roster, and the Golden Eagles slowly built a 6-2 lead.
Waldrep struck out 11, including six in a row in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. It was a single game school record for Southern Miss in the NCAA Tournament. It was also the 44th time Southern Miss had 10 or more strikeouts in a game.
“You can’t really focus on going out if you haven’t got the win,” Waldrep said. “As a team we fight for victory, we gave it our all.”
Waldrep went 6⅔ innings, throwing 119 pitches. He threw 33 in the first inning, including a nine-pitch battle with Pearson on a flyout. He had thrown 54 after two innings before settling into the game.
“We made it pretty early to get more pitches. They had the bullpen in the second,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said. “But great pitchers can find a strategy. He settled in and broke us for a while.”
In the battle between one of the best pitching teams in the country against one of the most productive offenses in the country, the Eagles proved that not only was their pitcher strong, but they were equally capable of firing shots. circuit.
Both teams hit three home runs in the 10th inning, but two of LSU came on in the ninth to tie the game.
The Tigers were able to get two runs early in the first and second — they even loaded the bases in the first — but after the second, LSU went cold. It was hitless until the seventh, when Dylan Crews hit a double to left center. Nothing came of it, however, and the Southern Miss crowd erupted in cheers when Jacob Berry struck to end the inning.
Will McGillis fired a two-run shot to left field in the second inning, and after crossing the plate, he crouched low, holding his hands in front of him as if taking a photo of his teammates who huddled together from outside the shelter.
The audience in front of him roared with applause.
This gave USM a 2-1 lead early in the second set (the Eagles were the “away” team because they lost the regional draw).
But late in the second, Tyler McManus tied the game with his own solo home run against the right-center fence, where Gabe Montenegro jumped in and watched him bounce off his glove and into the forest. That tied it at 2.
Danny Lynch’s RBI single in the fourth and Carson Paetow’s solo shot in the fifth gave the Golden Eagles a 4-2 advantage.
LSU’s Ty Floyd had started the game, and although he struck out seven and didn’t walk in six innings, his four earned runs came with two outs. He allowed six hits.
“Him getting to round six was a big deal – just shrunken enough to do what we needed to do,” Johnson said. “It’s a tricky place to be in a tournament like this where if you lose that game you have to win three in a row. You have to be very smart knowing that these guys can come back and give them every chance to win the game.”
Southern Miss started adding in the seventh when Jacob Hasty relieved Floyd. Hasty had walked two of them, both treading wild terrain. Rodrigo Montenegro lined out a hard ground ball to Cade Doughty, who tipped it over. Thompson picked it up, shooting Morgan for the forced out – but McGillis, who had walked, scored for a 5-2 lead.
Hasty closed his outing with a strikeout, and Trent Vietmeier took the mound in the eighth. After striking out two, Christopher Sargent fired a fly ball into left field to extend the lead, 6-2.
The Tigers finally had a chance in the eighth inning for a comeback like the day before. Facing southpaw Dalton Rogers, who relieved Waldrep, the Tigers charged after Pearson singled to center, and Thompson and Gavin Dugas, who hit for Jobert, walked. Landon Harper relieved Rogers, coaxing a ground ball from McManus that forced Dugas out at second.
Instead, LSU made their comeback a little more exciting by waiting for the ninth. Crews started with a solo shot to center left.
With two outs, Pearson walked to a tie, allowing Doughty’s two-run homer to make it 6-5. Morgan was hit by a pitch to reach first, and Drew Bianco, his pinch runner, stole second.
This set up Thompson’s single RBI.
It was the second time this season that Thompson entered the batter’s box with the score of the game resting on the barrel of his bat. He hit a home run against Oklahoma at the Shriners Classic in early March.
“There are a lot of guys I would love to have in those places, but he’s the mentally strongest player on our team and in our program, hands down,” Johnson said.