(6) Owls 5, (7) Tigers 6
June 17, 2008
Four-run ninth-inning rally lifts LSU; Rice eliminated
Updated: June 18, 2008, 1:35 AM ET
OMAHA, Neb. -- Blake Dean barely arrived at second base when his joyous LSU teammates mobbed him, starting the kind of celebration usually reserved for a national championship game.
After the hugging and back-slapping were over, Dean showed the old been-there-done-that attitude as he talked about his game-winning three-run double that kept the Tigers alive at the College World Series.
Yes, LSU has done this before. The Tigers dramatic 6-5 victory over Rice on Tuesday marked the second time in three wins in the national tournament they've come back from a three-run deficit in the ninth inning. In fact, LSU has come from behind in 30 of its wins this season.
But this was different. This was Omaha, a place that hasn't been so kind to the Tigers since they won their last national championship in 2000.
Dean, however wouldn't let on. It was as if his double off the left-field wall against Cole St. Clair was meant to be.
"Believing isn't the issue," Dean said. "There's no doubt in our mind that we were going to do it."
Now LSU (49-18-1) plays Thursday against North Carolina, a 5-3 loser in Tuesday night's Bracket 2 game against Fresno State.
Rice (47-15), which led 5-0 in the seventh, could have broken the Tigers' spirit in the eighth when Micah Gibbs was thrown out at the plate to end the inning. The Tigers had pulled to 5-2 at that point and seemed to have momentum when Gibbs was nailed.
"I thought maybe we've run out of our good fortune for the year," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "I shouldn't have any second thoughts about these guys."
On the same date six years ago, Mainieri's Notre Dame club broke Rice's heart in a similar fashion. In that game, Brian Stavisky hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Owls 5-3.
"Personally, it was a lot like deja vu," Mainieri said. "I am a lucky person to be so blessed."
Louis Coleman (8-0) set down the Owls in order in the ninth. Nicholas Pontiff grounded out to start the bottom half, and the Tigers were two outs from going home.
"I don't think these guys know what 'quit' means," outfielder Jared Mitchell said.
Derek Helenihi singled and St. Clair hit Ochinko with an 0-2 pitch. Then Michael Hollander hit an RBI single before Mitchell reached base to load the bases when Rice shortstop Rick Hague bobbled a ground ball and couldn't make a play.
Up came Dean to face St. Clair (10-3), one of the top relievers in the nation. St. Clair's 0-1 pitch was a fastball away, and the left-handed-batting Dean sent it on a line over left fielder Aaron Luna's head.
The ball bounced hard off the fence, allowing Mitchell to come around and score the winning run.
The Tigers' five-game CWS losing streak was over -- they went two games and out in 2003 and '04 -- and the celebration was on.
"We were given an opportunity," Dean said, "and we seized it."
Just like they did in super regionals, when they were down three runs in the ninth inning against UC Irvine on June 8. Three outs from being eliminated there, they rallied to win 9-7.
Two days after seven Rice pitchers were battered for four homers and a season-high 17 runs on Sunday, Rice starter Chris Kelley limited LSU to four hits in 5 2/3 shutout innings.
Though St. Clair never found his rhythm, he still looked good enough to finish off the Tigers.
He struck out national home run leader Matt Clark with two men on base to end the sixth inning.
The Tigers scored their first run when St. Clair was called for a balk in the seventh.
The second run came home in the eighth on Gibbs' double into the right-field corner. Gibbs tried to score on DJ LeMahieu's two-out single to right. The throw from Chad Mozingo reached the plate just as Gibbs arrived. Rice catcher Adam Zornes, who was blocking the plate, made the tag but dropped the ball. As Gibbs struggled to climb over Zornes and touch the plate, Zornes tagged him again.
"In my mind, it gave us the sense that we were going to win the game," Zornes said.
Dean said: "That was a punch in our face and knocked us back. But we had three more outs to go."
The Tigers' fans in purple and gold chanted "LSU! LSU!" as Dean came to the plate in the ninth. His double was his second of the day and the most important of his career.
"If you're going to play this game, you're going to be on the other side," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "It's going to be tough. We gave it our best shot. You have to give credit to LSU for fighting back. It was a great effort for them to come from behind like that."
Mainieri said he asked his players a question during their postgame huddle: "Will they ever, ever give up in anything in their life again after seeing this?"
Their answer: "No chance."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press