LSU's season ends in disappointment

Houston routed the Tigers, 12-2, on Monday, eliminating LSU from the NCAA Tournament and bringing the season to a premature end.

There's a first time for everything.

LSU had never lost consecutive games in an NCAA regional at home. They'd never failed to advance from one in the new Alex Box Stadium, which opened prior to the 2009 season. They'd never been eliminated from a regional in which they started 2-0.

Until Monday.

The No. 2 seed Houston Cougars stunned top-seeded LSU, eliminating the Tigers from the tournament with a 12-2 rout that left the typically raucous Alex Box Stadium crowd in a deafening silence through most of the game.

The 10-run loss was the Tigers' largest margin of defeat in an NCAA Tournament game since 2004.

"It was awful that we had to have our worst game of the year on this date," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "But this is the way game is. You go out there, and you leave it all on the field so you have not regrets.

"But they're human beings. If you cut them, they'll bleed. They're not robots, they're not perfect. They did their best, and I love them all."

It seemed like ages ago that LSU was on the highest of highs, opening the NCAA Tournament with consecutive wins, extending a winning streak to 10 games that also included an SEC Tournament title. But everything started to unravel in the eighth inning of Sunday's game, one the Cougars won 5-4 in extra innings to force Monday's decider.

"We were seemingly in the driver's seat with a four-run lead in the eighth inning" Mainieri said of Sunday's loss. "But unfortunately we just didn't get it done when we needed to."

LSU seemed to have rinsed that awful taste from their mouths though, as the Tigers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning. Alex Bregman, Jake Fraley and Sean McMullen strung together consecutive singles to give the Tigers an early advantage, but it was a lead that wouldn't last long.

"We came out hot," Bregman said. "We just didn't really do anything after that."

Alden Cartwright, a freshman making his first NCAA Tournament appearance, struggled mightily with his command. He hit leadoff man Kyle Survance on an 0-2 count, then walked the next two batters with eight consecutive balls.

That ended his night before it ever really got going.

"As soon as he got into the stretch, he just seemed totally out of rhythm," Mainieri said. "Every fastball was high, and he wasn't making the adjustments. I just didn't feel confident that he was going to find it."

In came fellow freshman Parker Bugg, who allowed Houston to tie it on a pair of sacrifices, but mostly minimized the damage considering the situation in which he entered. He worked a quiet inning in the second, but then disaster struck in the third.

Bugg walked the leadoff man, surrendered a single in the next at-bat, and then hit Caleb Barker to load the bases with nobody out.

He managed to get the force at home in the next at-bat after stopping a Josh Vidales liner with his ankle. But he'd hit his second batter of the inning after that to bring in a run.

Mainieri opted to pull Bugg from the game, sending Brady Domangue to the mound, but he wouldn't record an out.

Connor Hollis brought in two runs with a double down the right field line. Ashford Fulmer tacked on another with a single, and Domangue walked Survance to reload the bases. Mason Pyeatt drove in another pair of runs with a single through the left side, and Domangue would surrender one more base hit before coming out of the game.

The LSU pitchers combined to walk six batters Monday, and hit four others. Of those 10, seven came around to score.

"It was as poorly a pitched game as we've had all year," Mainieri said. "It was so unlike us to give so many free passes."

Nate Fury entered and retired both batters he faced in the inning, one of which by a sacrifice fly that inflated the Cougars' lead to seven runs.

The Cougars tacked on three more insurance runs in the eighth, though they certainly didn't need the added cushion.

Those LSU bats that left scorched Earth in their wake over the last two weeks of the regular season went limp Monday. After a one-out single in the second inning by Andrew Stevenson, the Tigers went 5 2/3 innings without a hit.

Their only semblance of a threat came in the eighth, when they strung together three hits and had a pair of runners in scoring position with two outs. But Tyler Moore grounded out to end that inning.

The Tigers did put runners on the corners with two outs in the ninth, but Bregman lined out to center field, ending the game — and the season.

"We know our goal is to hold up that trophy at the end of the year," Bregman said. "We didn't do that, so obviously it's a disappointed feeling. We're a better team than what we showed today, but we did leave it all out there."

The Tigers will pack up their lockers, depart for their respective summer leagues or turn their attention to the MLB Draft. Guys like Aaron Nola and Joe Broussard should hear their names called and sign to the professional ranks, and the four seniors will hope their baseball careers didn't come to an end.

"This is a program that I've dreamed to play for my whole life," said McMullen, one of those seniors. "And it's coming to an end. I'm just really blessed to be a part of this family."

And for Mainieri, not accomplishing his team's biggest goal wasn't the worst part of Monday's loss.

"When those kids leave, part of you leaves with them because you're invested in their lives," Mainieri said. "It's been an honor and a privilege, and that's what makes it doubly tough…The worst thing is having to say goodbye to some wonderful young men."

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