The Tigers continued to pound opposing pitching just as they have during their nation-best 21-game win streak by crushing two homers in the bottom of the first to push four runs across.
Blake Dean got things started when he crushed an Ehern Moreno pitch over the fence in right center for a three-run bomb that plated Jared Mitchell and Derek Helenihi. It was the sophomore designated hitter’s fourth homer in five games and his 17th of the year.
Matt Clark followed that up one out later with a solo shot to left for his 23rd round-tripper of the season and the route was on.
“I hit it pretty good but I think the wind helped it a little bit,” Clark said. “We had to get off to good start and when you’re up you have to just keep adding it on. It just helps the whole club and the game itself.”
Moreno (2-5) breezed through the second and third frames but LSU struck again in the middle innings.
The Tigers scored on back-to-back run scoring singles by Ryan Schimpf and Michael Hollander in the fourth to go up 6-0 and then Dean struck again in the fifth with a shot to right field that hugged the line but cleared the wall for No. 18 on the year and his 13th RBI in post-season play.
“It’s bee the same situation as it has been lately where I got good pitches to hit and I’m seeing the ball real well,” Dean . “I think the main reason I’m hitting so well right now is I’m seeing good pitches to hit and I’m laying off the ones that are borderline.”
TSU threatened in the third and fourth but LSU starter Jordan Brown induced consecutive ground outs in the third to strand a runner at third base and then struck out David Arredono in the fourth to end the inning with runners on first and second.
The Tigers from Houston finally got on the board in the sixth when Ernest Rhone drilled a Brown fastball over the wall in left for his ninth dinger of the year.
Brown then gave up back-to-back singles to Justin Holloway and Jordan Bush before Paul Mainieri turned to Austin Ross with runners on first and second and nobody out in the sixth.
Ross threw one pitch and took a grounder off the mound then turned and fired to second for one and DJ LeMahieu threw to first for the 1-6-3 double play.
Ross ended the TSU threat with a grounder to Michael Hollander to end the inning and the Tigers carried a 7-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth.
The freshman right-hander from Shreveport, who threw four strong innings of shutout ball and allowed only three hits, was in a tough situation but he performed well-beyond his years in the big-game setting.
“I told myself I had been there before and thrown a lot off this mound,” said Ross. “I just tried to keep the ball down and throw strikes. I knew if I threw strikes and kept it ball down I would be successful.”
LSU chased Moreno with four runs in the bottom half of the sixth on three singles, a double and a throwing error to put the game out of reach and send some Tiger fans heading for the exits.
“I thought today we did what we had to do,” Mainieri said. “I thought the kids had good focus and came out and played the game the right way. We had a good first inning, obviously, with Blake’s three-run homer and then Clark’s homerun got us off to a good start then their crafty left-hander kind of dazzled us for a couple of innings there. I don’t think it was out best game of the year but it was a very business-like job where we did what he had to do.”
LSU will now await the winner of the UNO/Southern Miss game and will play again on Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Tigers have played both teams this year and now Mainieri will try and get his guys to put this one behind them and get ready for either the Privateers or the Golden Eagles.
“Now what we’ve got to be ready to do is turn the page and obviously we’re going to play a really good ball club tomorrow night,” said Mainieri. “It will be a good challenge for us and we will have to be at the top of our game for sure.”
This was Paul Mainieri’s first taste of a regional atmosphere at LSU and he got a good look at a lot of gold in the stands.
“For me the highlight of the day was looking at that crowd,” said the headman. “The fans and the supporters of LSU baseball make LSU baseball what it is and I just think it’s an awesome thing that they all came out and helped us the way they did with wearing the gold and being very vocal and packing the place. It was very exciting to be out there today.”
Along with Mainieri, this was also many of his players’ first experience of post-season play at Alex Box.
“It was fun. I kind of got used to it sitting in the dugout. Every time you play here it is a big-time environment but it was a little different just because it meant so much more.”
“I think it was a little more exciting. It was the first time I got experience it. Everywhere you looked there was like a gold wave all the way around.”
“It’s a lot of fun playing in front of a big crowd and it doesn’t matter if it’s 90,000 or 7,000. Whenever you see them packed in you know they have a lot of people and they love you. It’s a lot of fun playing in front of a lot of people who want to see you play and who want to see you do good.”
The Tigers have now won 21 games in a row and have outscored their opponents 195-93 over that span.
The paid attendance for Game 1 of the regional was 7,671 but only 6,536 fans actually made it through the gates.
Sean Ochinko returned to action for the Tigers and delivered an RBI single in the sixth and stayed in the game to catch in place of Micah Gibbs.
Paul Mainieri emptied the bench in the eighth inning and inserted Nicholas Pontiff, Buzzy Haydel, Chris McGhee and Johnny Dishon for some action.