Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dean's 3-RBI Double Gives Tigers Amazing CWS Comeback

The LSU baseball team simply refuses to see its season come to an end. All-America designated hitter Blake Dean lined a three-run, walk-off double off the left field wall to lift the seventh-seeded Tigers to a dramatic 6-5 College World Series win over sixth-seeded Rice on Tuesday afternoon at Rosenblatt Stadium.
The Tigers (49-18-1), who entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 5-2, registered their 30th come-from-behind win of the season and their third ninth-inning comeback in Omaha. LSU also snapped a five-game College World Series losing streak.
“For us, what a monumental win,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “We’ve had a lot of games that looked like they were lost, but our kids keep battling until the end. There are so many heroes in a game like this with Blake obviously getting the game winner. It was just a great team effort in the end.”
Dean’s heroics brought back memories of Armando Rios’ game-tying double versus Long Beach State in the 1993 CWS, a contest LSU went on to win. Warren Morris’ game-winning homer in the 1996 CWS championship game was the other time the Tigers had come from behind in the final frame at Rosenblatt.
The comeback also gave Mainieri a flashback to his previous CWS experience with Notre Dame. Six years ago to the day, his Irish team eliminated Rice with a walk-off homer in the 2002 College World Series.
“It was an amazing win, a great team win,” Mainieri said. “Personally, it was a lot like déjà vu – six years ago I had a similar win in the College World Series with Notre Dame. I am a lucky person to be so blessed.”
On Thursday at 6 p.m., LSU will face North Carolina, a 5-3 loser to Fresno State late Tuesday. Junior left-hander Blake Martin (5-3, 4.89) is scheduled to start for the Tigers, who will be the home team.
Rice concluded its season with a 47-15 record and saw its three-game winning streak against the Tigers come to an end. The Owls had ended LSU’s season in 2005 at the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional.
Right fielder Derek Helenihi started the comeback when he drove a one-out Cole St. Clair pitch up the middle for his third single of the day. Pinch hitter Sean Ochinko fell into an 0-2 hole and was then hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second with the Tigers trailing 5-2.
Senior shortstop Michael Hollander followed and grounded a clutch single into centerfield to load the bases. LSU benefited on an error when shortstop Rick Hague misplayed a Jared Mitchell groundball that allowed Helenihi to score and close the gap to 5-3.
With the bases loaded, Dean kept LSU’s magical season alive when he ripped a 1-0 offering over the left fielder’s head. Pinch runner Chris McGhee scored, Hollander raced home and Mitchell – on the heels of Hollander – came charging home with his hands in the air for the winning margin, 6-5 in favor of LSU.
“There was no doubt in our minds we could do it,” Dean said. “We’ve done this so often before that believing is not the issue. We just needed that little bit extra, and we got it done today.”
St. Clair (10-3) absorbed the heartbreaking loss, allowing six runs – four earned – on seven hits in 2.2 innings. For his career, Rice’s key reliever had issued 12 runs in four innings of work against LSU. The Tigers had scored six on St. Clair during the 2005 season.
LSU junior Louis Coleman (8-0) was brilliant in relief again, working two scoreless innings to pick up his eighth win of the year. Starter Jared Bradford turned in a valiant effort, allowing five runs on seven hits in 6.2 innings. He walked two and struck out a season-high 10 batters on 106 pitches.
Meanwhile, LSU was shutdown offensively into the sixth inning by Rice starter Chris Kelley. Kelley blanked the Tigers for 5.2 frames and limited LSU to four hits while walking none and striking out three.
The Owls took the momentum and built a 2-0 lead after two innings. Bradford walked Luna to start the second. After a fielder’s choice, right fielder Chad Mozingo put a pair of runners in scoring position when he doubled off the left field wall. Shortstop Rick Hague followed and connected on a two-run single into left field.
Left fielder Aaron Luna launched Bradford’s first-pitch offering in the third over the left field wall to make it 4-0 Rice. Luna was previously batting .111 in NCAA postseason play with no RBI.
In the seventh, pinch hitter Nick Pontiff, in his first CWS at-bat, ripped a one-out single into centerfield. Helenihi received the benefit of a tough hop at shortstop for a single, and the Tigers plated their first run when St. Clair was called for a balk.
LSU saw the glimpse of a rally come to an end in the eighth. Gibbs drove Mitchell in with a double just inside the right field line to cut the lead to 5-2. Shortstop DJ LeMahieu nearly drove in another run with a single to right but Mozingo came up firing and threw out a diving Gibbs at the plate.

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