BATON ROUGE - Finally, in the eighth, hell, LSU had had enough.
LSU trailed Mississippi State, 3-0, entering the bottom of the eighth after getting runners to third in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings to no avail while ace right-hander Alex Lange had allowed just one hit and one run through the first seven with nine strikeouts.
State had struck for two hits and two runs off Lange in the eighth for a 3-0 lead that silenced a standing room only crowd of 12,000 at Alex Box Stadium Saturday night in the NCAA Super Regional opener.
"Yeah, it was dead," LSU center fielder Zach Watson said.
Then Kramer Robertson walked off State reliever Peyton Plumlee to lead off the LSU eighth.
"As soon as Kramer walked, the gates of hell were unleashed," Lange said.
“We played great for seven,” Mississippi State coach Andy Cannizaro said. “They beat us in the last two innings. They win the ball game.”
After Cole Freeman lined out to center, that is what happened. Antoine Duplantis singled, and Greg Deichmann doubled to get the Tigers through the pressure barrier, cut State's lead to 3-2 and chase reliever Peyton Plumlee. Then Zach Watson singled off reliever Riley Self to score Deichmann to tie it 3-3.
And State was in deep flames as Alex Box roared to life.
"It was an amazing experience," Watson said. "Something you only dream of doing."
Then Beau Jordan singled, fanning the flames, with the fourth hit of the Apocalypse. After an intentional walk to Josh Smith to load the bases, Michael Papierski launched a deep sacrifice fly right center to score Watson from third for the 4-3 lead.
State, which won four games in two days last Sunday and Monday to win the NCAA Regional in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, through the losers' bracket, was not dead yet, though.
LSU reliever Zack Hess, who bailed Lange out of the eighth by getting a ground out to end the frame, allowed a single to Elijah MacNamee to open the top of the ninth, and MacNamee reached third on a sacrifice bunt and a ground out. But Hess (7-1) struck out Hunter Stovall to end the game as the Tigers won their 15th straight and fourth in a row this season over State. Self (5-2) took the loss.
"That's a game we'll never forget in these parts," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "I can promise you that. I'll be talking about this game 10 years from now."
Particularly if LSU advances to Omaha, Nebraska, and the College World Series. The Tigers (47-17) can do that with a win over State (40-26) at 8 p.m. Sunday. Senior left-hander Jared Poche (10-3, 3.13 ERA) will pitch for LSU against a pitcher to be named from a depleted State staff.
Probable starters for State are freshman right-hander Denver McQuary (3-3, 4.67 ERA), junior right-hander Jacob Billingsley (2-3, 4.44 ERA) and sophomore right-hander Cole Gordon (2-3, 5.57 ERA). McQuary and Gordon did not enter the season as pitchers and moved into that role after a slew of injuries.
"Hopefully, by Sunday night, we'll be able to make reservations," Mainieri said.
There were no vacancies at home for LSU through the first seven innings despite the Tigers constantly knocking on the door.
LSU had three hits in the first six innings off State ace Konnor Pilkington but no runs. A lead-off walk to Jake Slaughter, who started at first base ahead of regular first baseman Nick Coomes, was wiped out in the third when Robertson hit into a double play before Freeman struck out.
Duplantis led off the LSU fourth with a single and reached third after one out on Watson's single. But Jordan couldn't manage a sacrifice fly as he popped out to second base. Smith looked like he was about to give LSU a 3-1 lead, but his fly ball was caught at the warning track by right fielder Hunter Vansau.
Papierski led off the LSU fifth with a double and reached third on a sacrifice bunt by Slaughter. But Papierski got caught too far off the bag on a grounder by Robertson to third base. Then Freeman grounded out to second to end the inning. Deichmann reached first when Pilkington hit him with one out in the sixth. Watson, though, bounced into a double play.
Then in the seventh, Jordan led off with a single, and Smith walked to chase Pilkington. Papierski sacrifice bunted both over off reliever Petyon Plumlee. Slaughter popped to shallow center, and Jordan tried to score. But he was out on a close play at the plate.
State took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Lange hit Jake Mangum with the bases loaded. Ryan Gridley had the only hit of the inning and of the game for the Bulldogs through seven innings. Lange walked two batters around Gridley's single to load the bases.
After hitting Mangum, Lange struck out Vansau and EMacNamee, and that was it for State's offense ... until the eighth.
The Bulldogs finally registered another hit off Lange with one out in the eighth when Stovall doubled. After Lange intentionally walked .395-hitting Brent Rooker and struck out Gridley, Cody Brown laced a two-run double into left field for a 3-0 lead that appeared insurmountable.
"Everybody needs to breathe," Deichmann said in the dugout before LSU batted in the eighth. "We've been in these situations. We've been in worse situations."
Glenn Guilbeau covers LSU sports for the USA Today Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter at @LSUBeatTweet. Coverage of LSU and commentary by Guilbeau supported by Hebert’s Town & Country Automobile Dealer in Shreveport located at 1155 East Bert Kouns Loop. Research your next Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep or Ram at http://hebertstandc.com/
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