That extra bit of LSU magic reserved for the postseason in Alex Box Stadium erupted in a big way Friday as the Tigers opened the NCAA Tournament with a come-from-behind, 8-4 victory against Southeastern Louisiana.
LSU trailed by two runs entering the bottom of the seventh but scored six in the next two innings to spark the rally. Tyler Moore's single in the seventh evened it before LSU blew it open with a four-run eighth.
The Tigers advance into the winner's bracket of the Baton Rouge regional and will face either No. 2 seed Houston or No. 3 seed Bryant on Saturday at 7 p.m.
"It was scary there for a while," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "But I have a lot of confidence in my kids. They're poised and composed…When you have some down moments during a game, you have to keep your dobbers up and keep battling."
LSU was on upset alert through most of the contest, as Southeastern led 4-2 at the stretch. But the Lions started to unravel under the pressure from 9,328 LSU fans.
Southeastern starter Andro Cutura hit Alex Bregman to start the seventh, and he walked Sean McMullen with one out to put a pair on base. Kade Scivicque cut the deficit in half with a single through the left side, scoring Bregman from second.
The Lions went to a new pitcher after that, lefty Matt Pittari, to face the left-handed Moore. Mainieri toyed with the idea of bringing in a right-handed hitter but stuck with the hot bat. With two hits earlier in the game, Moore was 14-for-28 since May 13, and he delivered once again.
Moore poked a single into shallow left field to bring in McMullen for the game-tying run.
"I can't say enough about Tyler," McMullen said. "He has a lot of confidence right now at the plate…He just finds a way to get the job done, and he's been an extremely vital part of this team."
That set up an eruption in the eighth inning as the floodgates opened and LSU put the Lions away.
Southeastern did do their part in handing LSU the lead though. With one out in the inning, Christian Ibarra sent a dribbler in front of the plate, but catcher Jameson Fisher's throw was wide of first, which put the go-ahead run in scoring position.
Mark Laird beat out an infield single in the next at-bat to put runners on the corners. Then with Alex Bregman at the plate, Southeastern pitcher Dylan Hills botched a pickoff attempt at first to bring in Ibarra for the go-ahead score.
"Taking advantage of errors was a big thing in the game," Laird said. "We got players in scoring position, and we just needed to put the ball in play. We did that and scored some runs."
The Tigers inflated their lead from there, as Alex Bregman tacked on another run with a groundout to shortstop. Jake Fraley reached on an infield single to prolong the inning, then Sean McMullen — whose two-run homer won the SEC Tournament — delivered another two-run shot to make it 8-4.
"It definitely did give us some more breathing room," McMullen said. "I was just lucky enough to hit a ball over the fence. I wasn't trying to hit a home run, I was just trying to score Jake."
Some of the LSU players did admit though that the possibility of defeat crossed their mind as the Tigers struggled to get much going off Cutura.
LSU managed to scrape together two runs on eight through the first six innings, but the Tigers also stranded eight runners on base and went just 1-for-10 with men in scoring position.
LSU also left a man on third base four times.
"Andro pitched a great game today," McMullen said. "He kept us off balance, but we put together some good at-bats against him. We were able to get him out of the game and get into their bullpen. That was the key."
None of the two runs LSU scored in the second and third innings came on hits either. Moore put LSU on the board in the second after drawing a walk to start the inning and eventually scored on the second of two wild pitches in the inning.
Mark Laird gave LSU a 2-1 lead in the third off a groundout by McMullen.
But that lead wouldn't last.
Southeastern tied it 2-2 in the fifth inning on a RBI-double by Jacob Williams. The Lions jumped in front with their second homer of the game in the sixth.
LSU starter Jared Poché walked Daniel Midyett with two outs in the inning, and then Sam Roberson made him pay with a two-run blast in the next at-bat.
"I struggled making my put away pitches," Poché said. "I left a couple curveballs too hittable."
Though Poché's line may not have been pretty — four earned runs on eight hits in six innings— Mainieri complimented the grittiness of his performance. Of his 78 pitches, 56 were for strikes, and he did pitch out of some nasty jams.
Southeastern opened the second inning with a single and double, putting a pair in scoring position with hopes of adding to its 1-0 lead.
But Poché got a shallow pop fly in the next at-bat, and then struck out Kennon Menard for the inning's second out. He then induced a lineout by Williams to escape the trouble.
"He came out right from the get go, a true freshman, and he pounded that strike zone right away," Mainieri said. "He made two bad pitches, but I thought Poché did a pretty doggone good job."
The LSU bullpen took over for him the rest of the way, not allowing a hit through the final three innings. Zac Person struck out a pair in his inning of work, and Nate Fury retired six straight to close out the win.
"They were the unsung heroes today," Mainieri said.
LSU rallies in tournament opener
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