For three innings, it was going so well. Jared Poche' didn't just get through those first three innings without allowing a run, he didn't allow a single baserunner. He was in total control of the game.
LSU's bats were struggling to score as well, but Andrew Stevenson at least made it to third base in the second and then Jake Fraley was thrown out at the plate to end the third. The game was still deadlocked at zero, but it seemed the Tigers were getting their chances and it was only a matter of time before they cashed in.
Then, Jared Poche' started the fourth inning by fielding a comebacker and lobbing the ball in to the ample right field foul territory. We didn't know it, but at that exact moment, the game went completely off the rails.*
*The thing about a train derailment is that it doesn't happen all at once. One of the cars loses the rail and can't realign itself, causing the rest of the train to fail to operate. The crash actually comes moments after the derailment.
The runner ended up on third base due to the Poche' error. The very next batter, Fagan, hit a ground ball right at Poche' again. He looked the runner back, threw the ball to first, and pulled Chinea from the bag. Poche' coaxed a double play ball. OK, he gave up a two-out hit to give up a second run, but the damage seemed to be somewhat minimized.
LSU responded with a run in the bottom half of the inning, and while things could have been better, it was still 2-1 after four innings. This one was far from over.
Except it wasn't.
LSU got the first out of the 5th inning, and then the slow-moving train crash came. Let's just marvel at the death by a thousand paper cuts:
Error by Hale
Hit by pitch
At this point, two runs were in, the bases were loaded with only one out, and the ball had only left the infield once. Poche' took care of that with the next hitter, and the bases clearing single essentially ended the game right then.
Mainieri then went to the pen too late for it to matter. Mainieri has always had a slow hook, and it has been especially pronounced this postseason as he has lost all faith in the bullpen to make key outs. This is why he sat on his hands, with Hunter Newman already warm in the pen, during Poche's slow motion meltdown. At this point, Mainieri is what he is when it comes to bullpen usage, so there's really no point getting too upset over him following his standard script.
The bullpen's performance at least justified Mainieri's decision to not trust it. Yes, the TCU hitters had clearly taken up residence in Poche's headspace after the consecutive errors, and the lousy defense infected the rest of the team. Connor Hale could have bailed Poche' out, but he booted an easy out. Mainieri stuck with Poche', as he has all postseason, and it exploded in his face.
The bullpen proceeded to allow four more runs in the 7th inning. The defense continued to make errors and miscues. Even Andrew Stevenson took a bad route on a ball, allowing a double, which I thought broke the rules of the game.*
* Mainieri further exhibited his bizarre quick hook for relievers, given his slow hook for starters. He used eight pitchers in the game, needing seven pitchers to work through the last four innings. The only guy he stuck with was Devall, who allowed 3 runs. I'm not sure burning every arm in the pen knowing you're going to be in the loser's bracket was the best of ideas. Lange has got to go at least 7, maybe all 9 to save the pen. Or maybe he's trying to expose everyone to live action in Omaha so they won't panic later on.
The hitters went into the tank and made 13 consecutive outs, as TCU extended the lead. Jared Foster broke the streak by taking the ball yard, but this was a textbook example of too-little, too-late. LSU rallied a bit after the home run, but digging out of a nine-run hole is close to impossible.
LSU was dominated in every which way a team can be dominated. This was an unpleasant experience, watching the game.
... and it was all going so well. The team staggered around for a bit after those back to back errors by Poche', but ultimately nothing anyone did mattered, because the Tigers were already dead.