Omaha Bound - LSU beats Baylor 20-5

Back to the big show…… finally. <br><br> The LSU Tigers will return to the College World Series for the first time since 2000 after Sunday's 20-5 thrashing of Baylor University in the NCAA Baton Rouge Super Regional at Alex Box Stadium.

In a three-game series that featured every emotion imaginable, including a pitcher's duel Friday, a nail biter on Saturday and an offensive explosion, there were too many moments during Sunday's contest to name.


From Jon Zeringue's three-run blast in the second inning to Clay Harris' grand slam in the sixth sparking an 11-run outburst – Aaron Hill's base hit in the ninth and the doff of his batting helmet before a deafening Alex Box crowd, to the celebratory dogpile on the mound to the entire LSU team kneeling for a prayer before Wally Pontiff's retired No. 31 on the centerfield wall – finally the "Regional Romp" the Tigers have made famous with a victory lap around the Box, to the LSU fans giving the Baylor Bears a standing ovation as the filed off the field in defeat – the scene was an emotional yet joyous one as LSU is finally heading back to Omaha, Rosenblatt Stadium and the College World Series.


"Well three years, it is exciting," Hill said. "I am really at a loss for words because I do not think that it has really hit me yet. I am just kind of in shock being with these guys."


The Tigers (45-20-1) got the monkey off their back Sunday ending the longest CWS drought in the program's 17-year history of going to Omaha. For head coach Smoke Laval, LSU's berth in the series may put to bed the murmuring among Tigers fan's of his ability to follow coaching legend Skip Bertman.


"With all the adversity he faced this season, he (Laval) did a great coaching job to get this team here," Bertman said following Sunday's triumph. "In all my time as a coach, I could never have done the job he did this year."


Laval gained the respect of his players as well.


"The reason he was brought here was to get us to Omaha," Zeringue said, "and we are going to Omaha. Now all we have to do is win it (CWS)."


If the Tigers can carry over the offensive power with which they displayed in Sunday's romp, LSU may very well get a chance to add national title No. 6 to the trophy case.


Leading 5-3 going into the sixth inning, the Tigers rattled off 11 runs, showcased by Harris' grand slam. In the inning LSU sent 15 batters to the plate, recorded six hits, including a Ryan Patterson home run, and drew six walks.


"The game came down to one inning," Baylor head coach Steve Smith said.


Harris grand slam was the first four-bagger for LSU this season and sent the Alex Box Stadium record crowd of 7,492 into a frenzy.


"I got fortunate because the swing before that I popped one up and the wind blew it around the first baseman missed it," Harris said. "He tried to come back with the same pitch and left it up and in a little bit and I was able to get around on it."


From that point on, the game was a forgone conclusion as LSU, Baylor and each fan in the stands knew the Tigers would get the victory.


While the game ended in a Tiger offensive onslaught, the record crowd was silenced early on as the Bears (45-23) were the ones on the offensive.


After Baylor opened the contest with three runs in the home half of the first, the Tigers answered with four in the top of the second and never looked back.


Baylor started the game well, as Mark McCormick retired the Tigers in order in the top of the first, and then Chris Durbin led off the bottom of the first with a home run into the left field bleachers.  


LSU starter Justin Meier then walked Murphy, who went to second on a wild pitch.  Meier struck out the next two batters, but Mark Saccomanno gave the Bears a 3-0 lead when his line drive hit the left field foul pole for a two-run home run.


"That three-run first inning was pretty frustrating," Meier said. "I think that it was frustrating for the whole team seeing it, but as a lot of you probably know, we've had a lot of defensive innings where we have given up runs. Most of them, we've been able to come back and win."


And that they did on Sunday.


The Tigers got their first hit in the second from Ivan Naccarata, and then had two runners on when Bears second baseman Kyle Reynolds dropped a relay throw from Trey Webb on Patterson's ground ball, which could have resulted in an inning ending double play.


Instead of possibly being out of the inning, LSU had two runners on, and Zeringue, who hit the game-winning home run in the 11th inning of last Sunday's regional championship game against UNC Wilmington, came through again to tie the game with a three-run home run to right-center field. 


"Well, it was just a fastball up and away and it was good stuff," Zeringue said. "I was taking everything that he threw me inside, because it was hard to get around on it. He just gave me a fastball up and away and I just got my hands up and hit it the other way like we have practiced."


A two-out single and a stolen base by Sprowl later in the inning allowed the Tigers to grab a 4-3 lead on Hill's bouncing base hit past the mound.


LSU added a single run in the seventh and three more in the ninth, including Hill's farewell base hit, which brought the crowd to its feet.


"It just shows how grateful we are for the fans and how much they mean to this ball club," Hill said. "They do a lot for us and they're there every game. They've come out every single game that we've had all year and they followed us through the good and bad."


The fans, the crowd, the environment, brought an emotional statement from Smith in the wake of his team's disappointing defeat.


"I want to congratulate Smoke (Laval) and his staff and their program on winning not only the SEC but this Super Regional," Smith said. "I want to wish them the very best as they progress to Omaha. As much as I want to say that, I also want to commend what I truly believe may be the premiere crowd in all of college baseball. I don't want to make LSU's media guide but that is a special, special, special crowd out there.  I know there is a lot of pressure on coaching baseball here at LSU. I could not imagine a bigger monster to try to handle than this program. It is one reason why I feel so good for Smoke that he is able to get this thing done like he did. I also want to say that the way the fans have responded all weekend to just excellence and outstanding play leaves me to believe that they truly do appreciate the difficulty of his job and the difficulty of playing this game. That is so rare, it is rare among fans, and if you don't mind me saying it's also rare among the media. It's just flat out rare that anybody truly appreciates how absolutely amazing that billboard is out there and how difficult it is to play this game at the level that so many people play it. I am just glad to have played in front of a crowd and I'm glad to have our players play in front of a crowd that I truly believe appreciated their performance."


In the end, after the dog pile, after the jubilation, the entire team remembered to whom the 2003 season was dedicated as the squad gathered in front of Wally Pontiff's 31 for a moment of reflection for the their fallen captain.


"He (Pontiff) has been with us all year," Hill said. "And all weekend too. He is going to be with us when we go to Omaha too. His presence has and always will be with us."

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