A day chock full of rollercoaster emotion leaves LSU and Stony Brook in the most unique of situations in sports.
One game, winner take all.
That’s the precipice both team stand on after the scintillating completion of one game and the workmanlike and frustrating course of the second.
The resilient Seawolves hitched their hopes to senior pitcher Tyler Johnson in the second game and he didn’t disappoint, spinning a complete-game three-hitter to pace a 3-1 triumph to force a decisive third game at noon Sunday at Alex Box Stadium.
Before that ever transpired, the Tigers capped off a stirring comeback when Mason Katz pumped a one-out single to center field to send Tyler Moore rumbling home from second base with the winning run in a 5-4 12-inning victory.
So, here we are.
When Stony Brook (50-13) and LSU (47-17) take the diamond at the final game at the Box this season, a trip to Omaha and the 2012 College World Series is up for grabs.
“This is what you’ve worked all year is an opportunity to get to Omaha,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. “What happens (Sunday), you’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”
Added Seawolves coach Matt Senk, who has his team on the cusp of the first CWS berth in school history “This is what we try to get to.”
Both teams got to Game 3 because of tenacity and the ability to repeatedly come back.
For LSU, that meant finishing off what it started Friday when JaCoby Jones, Tyler Moore and Mason Katz all swatted game-tying home runs to keep extending the game.
Ironically, all three players figured into the final run as well.
Before Katz got his chance to be a hero – again – there was an added twist of drama when Mainieri sent ace Kevin Gausman to the mound for the top of the 12th inning.
Gausman was scheduled to start the second game, and he did.
Mainieri said he came up with the plan with the idea of throwing Gausman as long as he needed to win the first game, in part because the local forecast called for stormy conditions to hit Baton Rouge around 1 p.m.
“Our best chance to win that game was with Kevin Gausman on the mound,” Mainieri said.
Fate smiled on the Tigers when Gausman needed only 12 pitches to get the Seawolves in order, the first time in the game they’d gone 1-2-3.
That set the stage for the final rally, which Moore triggered when he blooped a single to right-center field off Stony Brook reliever Frankie Vanderka. Austin Nola bunted Moore into scoring position and Senk countered by intentionally walking Jones to set up a double play possibility.
Katz didn’t wait around for that to happen. He pounced on Vanderka’s first pitched and rifled a liner into left-center field. With third-base coach Javi Sanchez frantically waving Moore around, center fielder Travis Jankowski grabbed the ball and uncorked an off-target throw. Moore slid across without a play for a wild finish to a crazy comeback.
|Katz: Follows game-tying HR on Friday with a game-winning 1B in the 12th inning|
“When Nola came up with a guy on first, Coach turned to me and JaCoby and said ‘One of you drive in the run,’ ” Katz said. “I said ‘If he doesn’t, I will.’ They intentionally walked JaCoby and tried to get a double-play ball. I was going to do my best to drive something in the gap. In that situation, I was not going to hit into a double play. I wanted to get something early in the count to hit. That kid has a great curve ball. He threw me a curve ball and left it up and in the zone and that was it.”
Right when it looked like that punch in the gut might make Stony Brook feel like a chance of a lifetime was slipping away, Johnson took matters into his right hand and revived the revived the Seawolves’ dreams of a trip to the CWS.
For the third time in eight days, Johnson was spectacular on the mound, and his performance mixed with a handful of timely hits off Gausman, were the right recipe for success.
“I knew I had to go out there and do what I did (Saturday),” Johnson said after upping his record to 12-1. “That was the biggest motivation for me.”
Indeed, Johnson had to be sharp against Gausman. As it turned out, he bettered the Tigers’ hard-throwing right-hander.
LSU got two base runners on only twice in the game, both times in the middle innings after Johnson handcuffed the Tigers to only one hit in the first five frames.
After LSU’s two best threats – one was snuffed out when Jordy Snikeris broke on a full-count pitch and was out when he overslid second base on ball four to the batter – Johnson was untouchable. He mowed down 10 of the final 11 hitters as the Tigers never had a chance again after Raph Rhymes’ smoked a run-scoring single in the sixth inning.
“He threw a phenomenal game,” Katz said. “He’s a great pitcher. He works both sides of the plane with a good sinker.”
Added Matt Senk, “Tyler just keeps outdoing himself every time he gets the ball.”
Stony Brook got to Gausman (12-2) for a pair of runs in the third inning after he hummed through the first seven hitters without a hitch.
After he fanned Steve Goldstein to start the third, a steady rain began to fall and it seemed to bother Gausman, who relies on a slider as a dominant second pitch.
Kevin Courtney worked the count full and then whacked a double to center field and Sal Intagliata punched another hitter’s count pitch (3-and-1) to center field to produce the game’s first run. Travis Jankowski and Willie Carmona sandwiched two more solid base hits around a fielder’s choice to give the Seawolves a 2-0 cushion. Those were four of the six hits Stony Book managed against Gausman.
|Kevin Gausman: Wins the opener with a perfect inning in relief and loses the second in a pitchers' duel|
“In the middle of the game I was kind of inconsistent hitting my spots, and I got into some hitter’s counts and had to throw fastballs,” Gausman said. “I was living down for the most part in the game, and I think the three pitches I left up were the ones that hurt me.”
Stony Brook got some extra insurance came in the fifth when Courtney, who had three of the Seawolves’ hits, drove a fly ball just over the right-field fence for a solo home run – just the third Gausman has allowed this season.
That was all the Seawolves got against Gausman, and Johnson made sure it was all that was needed in a game Mainieri deemed “two warriors going at it toe-to-toe, pitch-for-pitch.”
“The story of the game is that we just couldn’t get to Johnson,” Mainieri said.
And now, the Seawolves can play a major spoiler role or LSU can add to its extensive postseason lore and win a decisive Super Regional game at home for the second time in five years.
“It’s going to be a game between two very good teams who are going to battle each other as hard as they can, and the winner is going to get a pretty big prize,” Mainieri said.