BATON ROUGE, La. (WDAM) - Perhaps after watching the University of Southern Mississippi overcome an eight-run deficit Sunday afternoon, it was a bit far-fetched to believe that the Golden Eagles’ one-run lead over Louisiana State University was going to hold up for five innings.
USM managed to defend a 4-3 lead for two innings, but for a second consecutive evening at Alex Box Stadium, the Tigers rallied for three runs in the seventh inning to take down the Golden Eagles for a second consecutive time.
Sunday’s 6-4 decision launched the Tigers into Super Regional play for the eighth time in the past 12 years while ending the Golden Eagles’ up-and-down season in its tracks.
“Disappointing end to the season, obviously,” USM coach Scott Berry said, “but there’s only one team out there that isn’t disappointed, and that’s the national champion.
“But even though we lost, and we feel that, I feel like we won because of the way we came out and competed.”
USM rallied from an eight-run deficit Sunday afternoon, scoring seven runs in the final two innings to overtake Arizona State University 13-12 in an elimination game that put the Golden Eagles into the championship round against LSU.
The 13th-ranked and top-seeded Tigers (40-24) had knocked USM into the elimination bracket Saturday night, breaking a 4-4 tie with three runs in the seventh inning on their way to an 8-4 victory.
Sunday night, LSU would be facing left-hander Josh Lewis, who was making just his second start of the season.
Lewis’ beginning couldn’t have been rockier.
LSU shortstop Josh Smith took the first pitch from Lewis over the right-field wall for a 1-0 lead.
An inning later, LSU first baseman Chris Reid singled and Lewis walked third baseman Hal Hughes before Smith tripled both in for a 3-0.
But Lewis settled down and settled in, holding LSU hitless over the next three inning and scoreless from the third through sixth innings.
“He gave us a chance,” Berry said of Lewis’ career effort. “After the first pitch of the game, Smith leaves the yard, it would have been pretty easy to just kind of go, ‘Oh, crap,’ but he buckled down and gave us a chance to win, went deep, six innings.”
USM outfielder Gabe Montenegro, who had seven hits in Sunday’s two games, cut the LSU lead to 3-1 with his sixth home run of the season, a solo shot to lead off the fourth inning against starting pitcher Eric Walker.
The Golden Eagles grabbed the lead in the fifth inning.
Bryant Bowen singled, went to second on a sacrifice bunt and third on an infield single by Hunter LeBlanc.
After LeBlanc moved up a bag on a wild pitch, Danny Lynch lined a two-run single into right field to tie the game.
After a pop out, Montenegro coaxed a walk off Walker, ending his night. Matthew Beck entered the game and was greeted by a RBI-single by Guidry to put the Golden Eagles ahead 4-3.
When Hunter Slater walked, the bases were loaded, and Beck was facing clean-up hitter Matt Wallner with two outs. The two battled through a nine-pitch at-bat before Beck got Wallner swinging on a full-count breaking ball.
The score stayed at 4-3 until the seventh when Antoine Duplantis led off with a single and moved to third base on Daniel Carbrera’s single. Cabrera moved to second on the throw trying to get Duplantis at third.
That ended Lewis’ night, bringing in Jarod Wright from the bullpen.
He gave up a two-run single to Zach Watson that gave LSU a 5-4 lead. Saul Garza followed with a double to right-center field to score Watson for a two-run lead.
USM threatened in the eighth inning when Slater singled and Wallner walked. A bunt bumped both runners up a base, but LSU reliever Devin Fortenot got a strikeout and a groundout to escape the jam.
In the ninth, Montenegro was hit by a pitch with two outs, but after an eight-pitch at-bat, Guidry bounced out to end the game.
LSU is expected to host Florida State University in the Super Regional after the Seminoles won the Athens Regional.
All-Baton Rouge Regional Team
Montenegro, outfielder Matt Wallner and second baseman Matthew Guidry were selected to the All-Baton Regional team.
LSU players dominated the selections, including Smith, catcher Saul Garza, outfielder Zach Watson, designated hitter Cade Beloso and pitchers Cole Henry and Landon Marceaux.
Arizona State was represented by first baseman Spencer Torkelson and third baseman Gage Workman.
Montenegro and Garza were named co-Most Valuable Players.