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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 — Houston, TX

LSU eliminates Rice from CWS with 6-5 comeback win

By Dylan Farmer     5/15/08 7:00pm

When he left the game with two outs in the fifth inning, starting pitcher Chris Kelley took a sigh of relief. He had done his job, holding Louisiana State University scoreless through more than half of Tuesday's elimination game at the College World Series. It was one of the baseball team's best performances by a starter in the postseason, and as senior reliever Cole St.Clair recorded a convincing strikeout to end the inning, Rice fans were feeling comfortable with their team's 5-0 lead.Three innings later, however, after the Tigers marched off the field with an improbable 6-5 comeback victory, that feeling of comfort had turned into disbelief.

LSU took advantage of timely hits and several Rice errors to rough up St.Clair - the Owls' most decorated reliever - for six runs, four of which came in the bottom of the ninth inning. After St.Clair induced a grounder to third base for the first out of the frame, a seeing-eye single and subsequent hit batter put runners on first and second. St.Clair induced another soft grounder that could have ended the game, but shortstop Rick Hague mishandled the ball attempting to start a double play and the runners were safe all around. Designated hitter Blake Dean subsequently smashed a walk-off double off the left field wall that bounced away from Owl left fielder Aaron Luna and plated all three runners.

"If you're gonna play this game, you're gonna be on the other side," head coach Wayne Graham said. "We gave it our best shot. You have to give credit LSU for fighting back. It was a great effort for them to come from behind like that."

The comeback win was LSU's second in the past two weeks. Facing elimination in the second game of their super regional against the University of California-Irvine, the Tigers scored five runs in the ninth inning to turn a 7-4 deficit into a 9-7 victory and stay alive in the postseason. LSU then won game three to reach the CWS.

The Tigers began chipping away at Rice's lead in the seventh inning. With runners on the corners and two outs, St.Clair was called for a balk on a pickoff attempt to first base, and the runner on third scored. In the eighth inning, an error by first baseman J.P. Padron allowed the first runner to reach base, and a subsequent double scored him. LSU attempted to score again on a double later in the inning, but freshman right fielder Chad Mozingo made a good throw home and junior catcher Adam Zornes made an excellent block at home plate to end the threat.

St.Clair gave the Tigers credit for effectively placing their hits.

"I felt like I was making good pitches," St.Clair said. "They just put the ball where our defenders couldn't get to it."

After the game, Graham defended his decision to leave St.Clair in the game for the extended outing. Junior Bobby Bell had been warming up in the bullpen for several innings, but Graham elected to stick with his left-handed closer even with Tigers battling back. Graham said his decision was based primarily on the fact that the LSU's lineup was full of left-handed batters.

"Obviously I will be second-guessing myself until next year, or at least until next fall, [but] I chose to go left-on-left," Graham said. "I thought the guys [St.Clair] would be getting out would be primarily left handed. We'll live with it."

Despite the loss, Rice's day was not without some highlights. Junior Aaron Luna broke out of his recent hitting slump with a towering solo home run to left field in the sixth inning, and senior Jordan Dodson went 1-3 with two runs scored.

However, the Owls showed some serious lack of offense with the heart of their lineup. Padron, Zornes and third baseman Diego Seastrunk went a combined 1-14 on the day. LSU's pitchers combined for 13 strikeouts and only two walks, and Rice left seven runners on base.

LSU will now face second-ranked North Carolina, which lost to Fresno St. in Tuesday's other game. The two teams will meet Thursday at 6 p.m.

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