The real key to LSU’s victory was Paul Mainieri’s choice of attire.
The LSU coach donned a gold jersey Tuesday in a 5-3 victory against Cal State-Fullerton to avoid elimination. Mainieri rarely wears a uniform during games, opting instead for the lighter, better fitting pullover. The last time he regularly wore a jersey was in national championship season of 2009.
The players had begged for him to bring that back, and with the season on the line, he finally gave in.
“When you’re one game from elimination, you do whatever the players want,” Mainieri said. “I would’ve coached standing on my head if it would’ve helped them.”
Whatever mojo that created helped erase the voodoo that had plagued LSU in TD Ameritrade. The Tigers got their first win in four tries at the new home of the College World Series, and that guarantees they avoid the dreaded two-and-out.
“It was weighing on us,” Mainieri said. “I didn’t want to do that again. It was an awful feeling.”
Early in the game though, it seemed like the curse of TD Ameritrade had once again reared its ugly head.
Fullerton struck for three runs in the first inning off Lange. He gave up four straight hits at one point and retired only two of the first seven batters he faced, one on a sacrifice squeeze.
After the disaster that was LSU’s opening game to the CWS, the second didn’t start much better. But the Tigers had fallen behind early in several games this season, and they were still comfortable in this position.
“We had a long game left behind us,” said LSU catcher Kade Scivicque. “We have a good offense, and we just trust ourselves and try to hit the ball.”
That’s exactly what LSU did. The Tigers came roaring back with a four-run third inning behind six hits.
Alex Bregman got it started with his second of four hits in the game. Jake Fraley and Scivicque each followed with that with singles, Scivicque’s bringing in LSU’s first run. Chris Sciambra drove in another with a single, and Andrew Stevenson tied it on a sacrifice fly.
Mark Laird put LSU ahead with LSU’s sixth single of the inning.
“Nobody panicked in the dugout,” Sciambra said. “We had that big inning, and we kept it going.”
LSU picked up another insurance run in the fifth on a sac fly by pinch-hitter Danny Zardon. But that lead was already enough for Lange.
He rebounded mightily after that miserable first inning. He allowed only two hits the rest of the way and retired 25 of the final 28 batters he faced.
“He just put the team on his shoulders after a rough first inning,” Mainieri said. “The true character of a player shows when they get knocked on the ground like he did.”
LSU still has to win three games in three straight days to reach the CWS finals. That’ll start Thursday at 7 p.m. against either Vanderbilt or TCU. The Tigers have taken a “one game at a time” mindset with their backs against the wall.
And getting that first one out of the way is a huge boost.
“Now that we have that sensation of having won a game here,” Mainieri said. “It only enhances our confidence.”