LSU clobbers Cougars for regional title

Counting on LSU to win a regional championship game at Alex Box Stadium has become about as sure as counting on the sun rising in the East.

LSU has won every regional championship they've ever advanced to, including eight straight at home. Not wanting to beak with tradition, the 2004 Tigers pounded 14 hits and scored 11 runs to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals and send the scrappy College of Charleston Cougars home to ponder next season.

The 11-3 victory improved LSU's overall record to 44-17 on the season and set up a super-regional showdown with the still to be determined winner of the Houston Regional. Rice and Texas A&M were playing for the championship in Houston, with Rice having to win two games in order to advance to, and host one of eight super regionals. If Texas A&M wins either of the two contests, there is a distinct chance LSU could host next weekend's super regional.

College of Charleston finished their season with a 47-16 record.

LSU starter Lane Mestepey improved his record to 6-3 after scattering 12 hits in seven innings against the Cougars, who entered the game with second-highest batting average in NCAA division-one baseball. Cougar starter Matt Soale took the loss after giving up six earned runs in just three and one third innings.

The Tigers only out hit the Cougars 14-13, but six of LSU's hits were for extra bases, including two home runs, compared with just two doubles for the College of Charleston.

LSU, playing as the visitors for the first time in the tournament, scored in the top of the first when shortstop Blake Gill lined a double to the wall in right center scoring Ryan Patterson who reached after being hit by a 0-2 Soale pitch. Gill finished the game 3-5 at the plate with four RBIs, helping him earn the distinction of regional most outstanding player.

College of Charleston threatened to tie the score in the bottom of the first when right fielder Brett Gardner hit a stand-up one-out double the other way into left field corner and Mestepey hit the next batter with a 0-2 fastball. But Cougar shortstop Chris Campbell, who claimed College of Charleston's lone home run of the tournament Saturday against Southern Miss, shot a one hopper to Gill at shortstop resulting in a 6-3 double play that ended the inning.

The Cougars threatened to tie the score in the bottom of the second with one swing as designated hitter Brett Anderson scalded a 2-1 Mestepey fastball deep to right field. But Jon Zeringue kept Anderson from picking up at least a double with an outstanding catch as he leapt and crashed into the wall drawing standing applause from the overflow crowd.

Gill delivered again in the third by crushing a 1-1 fastball into the left field bleachers scoring himself and J.C. Holt, who led off the inning with an infield single. The two run homer gave Gill six RBI's for the tournament, tying him with Southern Miss second baseman Jarrett Hoffpauir for the most among all players in the regional. He passed Hoffpauir with his seventh RBI of the regional in the ninth on a bases-loaded walk.

The Cougars scored their first runs in bottom of the third after Mestepey gave up a one-out single, a bunt single and then hit Gardner with a 1-0 fastball to load the bases. Left fielder Byron Barber drove a sacrifice fly halfway to the wall in center field, scoring shortstop Anthony Fairchild and cutting the Tiger lead to 3-1. The College of Charleston threat ended when Campbell followed the sacrifice with a feeble grounder back to the mound.

LSU wasted little time in extending its lead back to three runs as second baseman Ivan Naccarata led off the top of the fourth by belting his fifth home run of the season just to the right of the 405 mark in right-center field. Catcher Matt Liuzza followed the homer with a single that was followed by a Clay Harris single. Liuzza was driven in two batters later by Holt, who ran his season total to 33 hits in 65 at bats with runners in scoring position with a RBI single to left, extending the LSU lead to 5-1 and chasing Soale from the game.

Patterson added his name to the hit parade by greeting College of Charleston reliever Zach Piccola with a sharp single up the middle scoring Clay Harris and giving LSU a 6-1 lead. The inning ended three batters later when designated hitter Nick Stavinoha grounded out to second with the bases loaded.

College of Charleston did not roll over, though as they continued to play the same dink and dunk, station-to-station baseball that got them to the championship round. Third baseman Jess Easterling bounced a ball over Gill into left field with one out. Then, first baseman Kevin Bulger lobbed a single into right field, giving the Cougars runners at the corners with one out. But the threat was again extinguished by a double play as catcher Mark Kirkpatrick grounded weakly to Gill who started a 6-4-3 twin killing.

Holt's ability to drive in runs was displayed again in the top of the fifth inning when he stepped to the plate with runners at second and third and two outs and drove the first pitch of the at bat well over Gardner's head in center for a two-out, two RBI double and giving the Tiger center fielder 34 hits in 64 at bats with runners in scoring position this year. Holt's 46th and 47th RBIs extended the LSU lead to 8-1.

He ran his RBI total to 48 in the ninth, scoring pinch runner Rhett Buteau on a line drive single to left field giving LSU a 9-3 lead.

The College of Charleston cut into that lead slightly in the bottom of the fifth with two singles to lead off the inning and an eventual RBI groundout by Gardner, making the LSU advantage 8-2. The Cougars also added a single run in the seventh on a Barber RBI double cutting the lead to 8-3.

But the Cougar's small-ball efforts were not enough to overcome LSU's consistent role as the thousand-pound gorilla of the NCAA Tournament. The Tiger win improved LSU's all-time record in NCAA Tournament contests to 102-37. LSU's .734 winning percentage in NCAA Tournament games is the highest among all NCAA schools.

Mestepey exited the game to a standing ovation in the eighth after giving up a lead-off single to Anderson, giving Jordan Faircloth a chance to shut the door on the Cougars with two fly outs and a weak ground ball tapped in front of the plate.

LSU extended its lead to 11-3 in the top of the ninth by scoring three runs on two hits and the help of a costly error at shortstop. Faircloth closed the game by inducing a 6-3 double play after a lead-off single before the last batter grounded out to second base.

Super regional hosts sites and match-ups will be announced on ESPN tonight during the 10 p.m. CDT Sports Center broadcast.

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