Coleman wasn't his usual dominant self, striking out only 5 and giving up 2 home runs and lots of hard-hit balls. We gave up 3 outs on the bases, including 2 at 3rd base in one inning. We gave up a run with bad outfield defense. But despite all that, we're still Omaha bound after beating Rice 5-3 early on Saturday evening.
Rice starter Ryan Berry uncharacteristically struggled to throw strikes, and LSU threatened in almost every inning. It was a game in which a big hit here or there would have blown the game open and given us a very comfortable lead. As it was, we were ahead most of the game after scoring a run in the top of the 1st, but we were never comfortable in the lead.
Louis Coleman may not have been overpowering, but he threw mostly strikes, stayed ahead of most hitters, and induced a lot of lazy fly balls, allowing 3 runs through 8 innings. Matty Ott came into the game in the 9th and allowed one baserunner before striking out a very dangerous hitter to end the game with the tying run at the plate.
Offensively, LSU threatened from the start. DJ Lemahieu started the game with a double down the right field line. Ryan Schimpf followed it up with a 4-pitch walk, and then Rice got a break. Blake Dean swung at a 3-0 fastball down the middle of the plate, and while he hit it hard, he hit it directly at the right-fielder for an out. It was hit hard enough and low enough that the right fielder wouldn't have been able to make a play if he had to take more than 10 steps. Had that ball been in the gap, it would have been a bases-clearing double. Gibbs then walked to load the bases and Mahtook hit a grounder that was too slow to turn a double play, and Lemahieu scored. Mitchell then struck out with runners on 2nd and 3rd to end the threat.
In that inning, Rice got a break from the baseball gods. In other innings, the Tigers were their own worst enemies. In the 4th inning, Mitchell started the inning with a double, then advanced to 3rd on a single by Ochinko. Helenihi followed it up with a base hit scoring Mitchell, but Ochinko was thrown out trying to take 3rd. We didn't get another run in the inning. In the 6th, Helenihi homered and Nola was hit by a pitch. After a pitching change, we gave Rice an out on a sac bunt. Nola advanced to 3rd on a wild pitch, but then got caught in a rundown on a grounder by Schimpf. We did not get another run in the inning. In the 7th, Mahtook was thrown out at 3rd base trying to advance on a grounder to short stop. Mitchell then got thrown out trying to steal 3rd base. That's 3 extra outs given up on the bases, one out given up on a sac bunt, plus we traded a runner at second for a runner at first. Those extra outs kept Rice in the game, but Coleman fought and battled to keep Rice down.
I personally never really felt comfortable with our lead. Rice hitters continually hit long outs. Rice had two solo home runs on the night and 9 total hits. Coleman constantly pitched with runners on base. Fortunately, he never gave the Owls a pitch they could drive with runners on base. It wasn't vintage Coleman, but it got the job done.
LSU goes on to Omaha, and we will first take on the winner of tomorrow's rubber game between Ole Miss and Virginia. I think with our great top-end pitching and our solid pitching depth, you have to like our chances in Omaha.