LSU punched their ticket to the Super Regionals with a come from behind 6-4 win over Southern Miss to complete a perfect pass through the Baton Rouge Regional.
The Tigers gave up a 3-1 lead in the top of the fifth, but came back with a three spot in the bottom of the seventh to regain the lead and win their third game in as many days.
“That game tonight, as well as last night, was a total grind for our guys,” Maineri said. “In all honesty, I thought the game would be a little bit easier today. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to say. That team had to play for almost four hours in the heat today. They had the fortitude to battle us and fight from behind and then we had to fight from behind. Tip of the cap to (USM head coach) Scott Berry and his players. I thought they were awesome. But what a great victory for our team, just so proud of our team. Just unbelievable, really. Total team effort.”
Josh Smith opened the game by taking the first pitch from Josh Lewis and putting it deep into the Diamond Deck to give LSU a quick 1-0 lead out the gate.
“The first pitch of the game, most of time, is a fastball,” Smith said. “I was just sitting on it, not trying to do too much with it. Honestly I was just thinking up the middle and I was able to get under it a bit and put some backspin on it and got it out to right.”
Later in the inning, Antoine Duplantis hit a line drive to center field for his 353rd career hit, breaking Eddy Furniss’ record.
“Whenever he got that hit, I got chills going down my whole body,” Zach Watson said. “It was the greatest feeling ever.”
“He’s the best,” added Smith. “There was no shock. We knew he was going to get it eventually. I’m so happy for him, he’s put in the work and is the definition of an LSU baseball player. We know coach loves him to death, everybody loves him. He’s our leader.”
With two outs in the second inning, Chris Reid reached on an infield single and Hal Hughes walked, bringing up Smith for the second time in as many innings. Smith followed up his home run with a triple to the opposite field gap, scoring both runners and giving the Tigers a 3-0 lead.
“I figured they weren’t going to throw me another fastball after that first at-bat,” Smith said. “So they threw a slider down and out. I was sitting on a slider and tried to go the other way with it. I haven’t been that good at hitting that pitch this year but I tried to stick my front arm out and go the other way.”
Southern Miss reached the scoreboard when leadoff hitter Gabe Montenegro hit his own solo home run to open the fourth, a booming blast to right field.
In the next inning the Golden Eagles would surge ahead with three runs on three hits and a trio of costly walks. The inning started with a leadoff walk to Bryant Bowen and a sacrifice bunt to move him over. An infield single and a wild pitch put the tying run in Hunter LeBlanc at second. Danny Lynch then tied the game with a single to right.
After another walk, USM chased Eric Walker from the game after 4.2 innings where he allowed four runs, all earned, on three hits and two walks while striking out two. Matthew Beck relieved Walker and gave up a single to Matthew Guidry that put the Golden Eagles on top 4-3.
LSU stormed back ahead in the bottom of the seventh, kickstarted by back-to-back singles from Duplantis and Daniel Cabrera, chasing Golden Eagle starter Josh Lewis in the process. Zach Watson then followed suit and gave LSU the lead back with a single to right. Saul Garza immediately scored Watson with a loud double to right center, putting LSU up 6-4.
“I think a lot of people forget that we were the preseason number one team,” Smith said. “This team is a really good team, some guys are getting healthy again and giving us our old confidence. We’ve been down before, second game of the year we went down and hit a walkoff. That kind of shows you how this team is. We went down one run and I don’t think anybody in that dugout thought we were going to lose that game.”
After Matthew Beck worked out of the fifth inning, Trent Vietmeier and Devin Fontenot slammed the door, each working two innings where they allowed no runs on two combined hits and a walk while striking out four.
Because Florida State defeated Georgia in the Athens Regional, the Tigers will host the Seminoles in a best of three Super Regional next weekend in Baton Rouge. The Seminoles will be the sentimental favorites to the nation, as head skipper Mike Martin, the winningest coach in NCAA D1 history across all sports (2,026 wins and counting) will be retiring at the end of his 40th season.
Mainieri, a Florida native, is looking forward to the honor of hosting Martin’s final Super Regional appearance.
“I’m a big Mike Martin fan, I have been my whole life,” Mainieri said. “I grew up the son of a coach. And so my heroes growing up were other college baseball coaches...I’ve always liked Mike...to me it’s a great honor to coach against him in what potentially could be his last game. I think the world of Mike.”