In front of a season-high crowd of 7,498 the LSU Tigers powered their way to the final round of the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional, belting five home runs and sending Southern Miss to the loser’s bracket.
The win gives LSU (45-16-1) its 22nd consecutive victory, tying an SEC record set by South Carolina in 2000.
“We still need one more win this weekend to win this tournament and advance,” said LSU head coach Paul Mainieri. “We will enjoy it until midnight and then when the clock strikes midnight and a new day begins our focus will shift to tomorrow and we will get ready to play.”
The Tigers never trailed on the night, thanks largely to the efforts of red-hot hitters Blake Dean and Matt Clark.
Clark earned Player of the Game honors, blasting two separate two-RBI home runs into the night sky. Dean countered with a solo home run (his ninth in 11 games) and an RBI-double.
“Me and Blake are hitting the ball great,” Clark said. “We’re putting good swings on the ball and just trying not to miss when we get balls over the plate.”
Southern Miss (41-21) falls into the loser’s bracket, where the Golden Eagles face a rematch with UNO for the right to play LSU.
The game started out as a pitching duel, with both teams combining for one hit in the first two innings.
The Tigers recovered however, and grabbed the lead in the third inning. Ryan Schimpf earned an RBI when he grounded into a double play, scoring DJ LeMahieu for a 1-0 lead.
As has been the case for the last 10 days, Dean and Clark combined for an explosive fourth inning.
Dean brought the crowd at Alex Box Stadium to its feet when his solo shot screamed over the signs in right field. Just two batters later Clark hit his first dinger of the night to almost the same spot as Dean, scoring Derek Helenihi for a 4-0 lead. The inning ended in thrilling fashion when Leon Landry scored LeMahieu on a hard-hit line drive, but was thrown out as he attempted to stretch the play into a triple.
Dean earned his second RBI of the night in the fifth inning. Leading 5-1, he crushed a double to the depths of center field and scored Schimpf to restore a five-run lead.
Ryan Verdugo (9-2) got the win for LSU. The junior opened the game in impressive fashion, allowing three hits in the first three innings and striking out four batters. However, the left-hander lost some control in the fifth inning, walking a batter and allowing three hits.
Southern Miss took advantage and staged a fifth inning rally on Verdugo. The Eagles smacked a double and two singles into play, scoring three runs and cutting the score to 6-4.
Louis Coleman replaced Verdugo in the sixth inning and was spectacular. Similar to his SEC tournament appearance against Ole Miss, Coleman shut out the Eagles over three innings of work, allowing just two hits and striking out one batter.
LSU proceeded to outscore USM 7-0 in innings six through nine. Clark put the Tigers up 8-4 with his second two-run shot, scoring Helenihi for the second time.
LSU’s final fireworks came from the dugout. With an eight-run lead, Mainieri sent four pinch hitters to the plate in the ninth inning and with one out, Sean Ochinko launched the fifth home run of the evening to right field for the final 13-4 score.
UNO and Southern Miss will play Sunday at 1 p.m. The winner of that game will advance to play LSU on Sunday at 6 p.m. The Tigers are the only undefeated team remaining in the Regional, and will have to be defeated twice to be eliminated.
Blake Martin will start on the mound for the Tigers on Sunday.