LOS ANGELES – UC Irvine pitching limited the second-seeded Tigers to three runs and Anteater left fielder Drew Hillman went 3-for-3 as UC Irvine eliminated LSU, 4-3, from the NCAA Los Angeles Regional Sunday afternoon in Jackie Robinson Stadium.
The Tigers finished the season with a 41-22 record, an SEC Tournament Championship and the school’s 24th NCAA Tournament appearance. UC Irvine (39-20) advanced to face UCLA in the finals of the NCAA Los Angeles Regional. If the Anteaters defeat UCLA Sunday night, the teams will meet again Monday at 6 p.m. PT.
“My life has been enriched by the experiences I’ve had with these players, and I’m very proud of the way they represent LSU,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “We fell just short today, but it doesn’t diminish what our kids have accomplished. Our seniors – Blake Dean, Paul Bertuccini and Matt Gaudet – have meant so much to our program, and we will miss them greatly. Some of our underclassmen will be leaving early for pro baseball, so in a way it’s the end of an era and next year will start a new era.
“Fortunately, we have a strong core of players back and we’ll continue play at a championship level at LSU.”
Irvine starter Evan Brock (6-4) earned the victory for the Anteaters after allowing three runs on seven hits in six innings of work with no walks and seven strikeouts. LSU starter Ben Alsup was charged with the loss after allowing three runs on five hits in 4.1 innings.
The Tigers were led offensively by Leon Landry, Alex Edward and Gaudet, who each contributed three hits apiece for LSU. Edward also had an RBI for the Tigers.
UC Irvine took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when designated hitter Jordan Leyland slapped an RBI single into right field. Leyland’s single advanced Drew Hillman to third before Ryan Fisher attempted a suicide squeeze with one out. Fisher’s shallow bunt was fielded by Gibbs in time to tag Hillman before he crossed the plate. The Anteaters loaded the bases in the inning before Alsup forced Sean Madigan to ground out to end the UC Irvine threat in the second.
The Anteaters extended their lead to 2-0 in the fourth when Fisher hit into a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded to plate Francis Larson from third. With Leyland on third, D.J. Crumlich grounded out to Nola at shortstop, allowing Leyland to score, putting UC Irvine ahead 3-0 in the fourth.
Senior right-hander Paul Bertuccini entered the game for LSU in the fifth with one out and a runner on third. Bertuccini forced Cusick to groundout and then Leon Landry made an incredible diving catch on a line drive by Larson to end the inning with no runs allowed.
The Tigers got on the board in the top of the sixth when Dean launched a solo homer to right-center off Irvine starter Evan Brock to cut the Anteater lead to 3-1. The homer was Dean’s 12th of the season.
Irvine responded in the bottom of the frame when Hillman led off the sixth inning with a solo homer off Bertuccini to increase the Anteater lead to 4-1. The homer was Hillman’s third of the season.
LSU responded in the top of the seventh when Landry and Alex Edward led off the inning with back-to-back doubles, making the score 4-2. Irvine reliever Kyle Necke entered the game for Brock after Edward’s double. The first batter Necke faced was Gaudet, who lifted a deep sac fly to center, allowing Edward to tag to third.
The next batter, Tyler Hanover, roped a single into right field, scoring Edward and pulling the Tigers within one at 4-3. The next batter, Trey Watkins, hit a scorcher back to the mound, but Necke turned a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Sophomore right-hander Matty Ott entered the game for LSU in the seventh and retired UC Irvine in order with a groundout, strikeout and fly out. Ott allowed no runs on only one hit in two innings of relief with no walks and three strikeouts.
The Tigers threatened in the ninth when Edward led off the game with a single up the middle. Irvine reliever Nick Hoover forced Gaudet to ground into a 4-6-3 double play and then forced Hanover to pop out to Larson behind the plate to end the game.