UC Irvine had stifled LSU’s hot bats over the previous 16 innings but with one swing of the bat by Jared Mitchell the fire got lit and it never went out as the Tigers scored seven runs in the last two frames on Sunday to win 9-7, followed by a 21-7 demolition on Monday to advance to the College World Series for the first time since 2004.
Cal-Irvine was touted for having the best trio of starting pitchers LSU would face up to this point in the season and Scott Gorgen and Daniel Bibona certainly lived up to the hype.
The hot-hitting Tigers entered the Super Regional with a .324 batting average over their last 23 games with 65 doubles and 42 homers during that stretch.
Gorgen and Bibona kept the Tigers in check in their 14 innings of work by allowing 15 hits and five runs with only one base hit clearing the wall for a homer.
Once UC Irvine Head Coach Mike Gillespie pulled Bibona after Mitchell’s solo homerun in the eighth, though, the floodgates opened and there was no one he could turn to from that point on.
The Anteaters sent eight different pitchers to the mound over the final nine and two-third innings of the series and none of them could do anything to stop the offensive fireworks as the Tigers banged out 27 hits, including seven homers, and scored 27 runs.
The dramatic win in game two is something that LSU Head Coach Paul Mainieri will always remember no matter how long he coaches or lives.
It also reinforced what he already felt and knew about his kids, along with giving him an idea of what to expect on Monday evening.
“I knew that there was no way they were going to be denied,” Mainieri said following Monday’s victory. “It wouldn’t have mattered who we played. That Irvine was a great team. I think that Mike Gillespie is one of the all-time great coaches in college baseball. They’re as well coached a team as you’ll find in the country and had a tremendous year. It’s bad for them that we had a group of kids that were not going to let anything stand in their way.”
After Sunday’s come-from-behind win, which will rank as one of the all-time greatest in Alex Box history, no one will ever count these guys out regardless of the score and the circumstances for the remained of the year.
If they do then they could be setting themselves up for a big fall.
“I’ve preached since the day I came here that the game is what matters,” Mainieri said. “Practice hard and work on your skills. Once the game starts is when you turn it on. We want all of our players to be called gamers and believe me they are.”
Next up for the Tigers is a trip to Nebraska where they will meet North Carolina on Sunday at 6 p.m. CT.
The national media is going to be tossing out nicknames for this LSU squad and you may hear it referred to as the “Box Bombers”, or maybe even the “Cardiac Kids”.
The storylines and nicknames will be there but Mainieri summed it up with one short phrase.
“That’s what we call a gamer.”