The Tiger bats had put together multiple-run innings just twice since the Regional dropped into Baton Rouge – both coming in Friday’s opener against Southern, once in the seventh inning (seven runs) and again in the eighth (two runs).
Good news for the struggling bats, Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year Louis Coleman was taking the hill for the Tigers.
Even better news for their hopes of a deep-run into Omaha, the staff’s ace did not even need to bring his best stuff – seeing LSU jump out to a four-run fourth and a three-run third to put the Golden Gophers behind the eight ball from the jump.
“It was good to get those runs early,” Mainieri said. “I went to my son Tommy’s baseball game this morning with my other son Nick, and we were talking about how today was going to be the day we were going to put it all together. We were going to pitch, play defense, hit and go on to a nice victory.”
Coleman, in typical Coleman-fashion, brought his best stuff anyhow – allowing one run on five hits over 7.2 innings of work.
“I came out there trying to throw strikes, and I knew our guys would start swinging the bats extremely well like they’ve been doing all year,” he said. “They came out and gave me a lot of runs early on, so it made it a lot easier for me to throw the ball over the plate and try to force some action.”
At the plate, the Tigers came alive for seven runs on eight hits through the opening three frames – the fastest start the team had seen since jumping out to a seven-run first against Georgia on May 23.
LSU began dissecting Minnesota’s Allen Bechstein in the second, tapping the right-hander for four runs off a pair of singles and a pair of doubles.
DJ LeMahieu, who drove in the game’s opening run, said that getting out to a quick start was mission number one.
“After the past two days we knew that we would have to score early to finally have some runs on the board for our pitching,” he said. “I think a little of it was what we were able to get off [Bechstein], but more so it was just our focus coming into the day that pulled us through.”
In the third, a familiar face made his first big splash of the weekend. Blake Dean, who was a combined 1-of-8 against Southern and Baylor, drove a 1-1 pitch over the left field fence – moving the Tigers out front 5-0.
“I think I started off slowly this weekend, and it felt good to finally come out and get some hits and give some support,” he said.
Four batters later, LeMahieu was at it again – this time scoring Mikie Mahtook on a sacrifice fly to right field. The run moved Mainieri’s crew into their most comfortable lead since the eighth inning of Friday’s Southern game, when they scored a pair of runs to finish the scoring at 10-2.
Dean would come alive again in the sixth with a single to right center that scored Jared Mitchell. The junior then scored on a Micah Gibbs double to right center, giving Coleman nine runs of support to work with.
“It definitely takes a lot of pressure off our pitchers,” Gibbs said. “When we can keep piling on runs, they can throw strikes and force some action.”
In the bottom of the frame, the Golden Gophers came alive – well, sort of.
The events began in right field, where Mitchell bobbled what appeared to be a highlight-reel sliding catch. By the time first base umpire John Haggerty made the out call, Golden Gophers head coach John Anderson was within inches of the man-in-blue’s personal space.
Long story short, the Gophers would have the evening play out as a family affair – seeing pitcher Tyler Oakes get tossed from the dugout before his father, pitching coach Todd Oakes, got the boot two innings later.
Anderson – who has surely seen it all in his 27 years of coaching – offered up his best explanation.
“They said that Tyler gestured at one of the umpires after the umpire had given the bench a warning,” he said. “I did not see him gesture nor did I hear the umpire warn the bench. The difficult part for what happened out there was that Tyler is the pitching coach’s son and is a senior making this his last game.
“We were going to pitch him today if we thought we needed him,” he added. “That’s the emotional part, that as his father and pitching coach, it was difficult. I apologize for what happened out there, but you have to understand the emotion from our side.”
Outside of a solo home run by Kyle Knudson in the seventh and a two-run bomb by Nick O’Shea in ninth, that would be all the entertainment that Minnesota would conjure up.
The Tigers added a solo home run in the eighth courtesy of Ryan Schimpf before Nolan Cain and Daniel Bradshaw stepped in to close out what Coleman began – seeing Bradshaw give up two runs on two hits in the ninth.
With no celebration following the game’s final out, the message from Mainieri and his crew was heard loud and clear.
“It was a great championship for us to win, and now we have to move on to face either Rice or Kansas State next weekend with a chance to go to Omaha,” Mainieri said. “We have said that we need five wins and we now have three down, two to go.”
Rice and Kansas State are set to face off in Houston’s Regional final on Monday at 6 p.m.