LSU wastes brilliant bullpen performance as season ends in Super Regional sweep

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Garza error FSU
(Photo: Jonathan Mailhes)

It was a missed opportunity but it was not unexpected.

A roller coaster season for the LSU Tigers came to an end as the Florida State Seminoles slammed the breaks on the home team Sunday at Alex Box Stadium.

LSU rallied late in the season to earn a regional and took advantage of it by sweeping through it.

Meanwhile, national seed Georgia lost at home to Florida State, giving Paul Mainieri and his Tigers a gift in being able to host a Super regional at the best venue in college baseball with the most rabid fans in the land.

In the final analysis, none of that mattered.

The lack of productive starting pitching and awful base running doomed LSU against Florida State. So, too, did a costly error which cost the Tigers a run and maybe more. Add to those factors the lack of hitting in crunch time.

The Tigers did not score in their final four innings in game one and game two.

With a base open and two outs in the bottom of the 12th inning, Drew Mendoza, who leads FSU in RBI, lined a single to right, scoring Mike Salvatore, who led off the inning with a single. Mendoza advanced to second on what was ruled a wild pitch but should have been a passed ball on Saul Garza. It would prove fatal.

How did we get there in this epic battle?

Landon Marceaux got into deep trouble in the bottom of the second inning by walking the leadoff man. After a bunt single and a single to center, Nander De Sedas grounded to Cade Beloso at first. He was near the bag and elected to touch the bag and throw home. The throw home was perfect to Garza, who put the tag on Robby Martin, who was called out.

Garza dropped the ball when it was kicked out by Martin. Upon further review, Martin was called safe and FSU led 1-0. Matheu Nelson then lined a single to left, scoring another run to make it 2-0. Salvatore followed with RBI single to center and it was 3-0.

All-time LSU hits leader Antoine Duplantis led off the top of the fourth inning with a home run just inside the foul pole which was upheld by replay after being challenged by Florida State.

That momentum was quickly erased as the Seminoles got the run back in the bottom of the frame on an RBI double by nine-hole hitter Tim Becker.

LSU finally broke through in the top of the sixth against CJ Van Eyk. Josh Smith and Giovanni DiGiacomo singled solidly before Duplantis lined an RBI single to left, scoring Smith to make it 4-2.

Daniel Cabrera followed with a productive groundout, advancing the runners to second and third with one out. Then came another massive base running blunder by LSU, just as bad, if not even worse than missing a base and costing the team a run which we saw in game one.

With the dangerous Zach Watson at the plate, a .404 hitter with runners in scoring position, DiGiacomo inexplicably got picked off at third base by Nelson from behind the plate. It was mind-numbing.

Watson then walked. It would have been a bases loaded situation for the dangerous Beloso with one out. Instead, It was two outs and Beloso flied out to end the inning.

In the top of the eighth inning, Smith doubled to left and with one out, Duplantis singled him home and took second on the throw toward home to make it 4-3.

That ended the day for Van Eyk, who was outstanding, throwing a season high 115 pitches. Left-hander Antonio Velez dame on in relief.

Watson followed with an RBI single to tie the game 4-4 but he was thrown out trying to advance to second on the return throw to the infield.

The replay looked like he was safe but was it worth trying? LSU would have had the go-ahead run at third with just one out. It marked the fourth base runner LSU lost on the bases in two games.

Beloso then grounded out to end the threat, leaving the game tied.

That ended the day for Van Eyk, who was outstanding, throwing a season high 115 pitches. Left-hander Antonio Velez dame on in relief.

The lack of a single left-hander on the LSU pitching staff has been glaring all season long. It was exposed against the many left-handed hitters in the Florida State lineup.

Marceaux, who had pitched well over the last month plus, competed well but Florida State’s hot hitting lineup was simply too much for the freshman, along with the key error. Matthew Beck and Devin Fontenot did an fantastic job in relief of Marceaux, holding FSU at bay the rest of the way.

Over his first five and two-third innings, Fontenot allowed no runs no runs and no hits. He walked two and struck out nine.

Then, in his final inning, he finally allowed two hits, one of which produced the game-winning run. The option was there to walk Mendoza, with a base open. Fontenot got two strikes on Mendoza but he boxed a fastball and Mendoza drilled it for the game-winner.

Combined, Fontenot and Beck went eight innings, allowing one run on two hits with three walks and 13 strikeouts. You cannot ask for more.

Fontenot went six and one-third innings, allowing one run on two hits. He walked two and struck out 11. Velez was outstanding as well as he stymied LSU, holding the Tigers scoreless over hte final four and two-third innings to pick up the win.

Ultimately, the series was largely decided by starting pitching or the lack of it for LSU.

Game one starter Cole Henry could only go two innings. Marceaux lasted just three and one-third innings.

While there was optimism after a good SEC tournament showing and after winning the Baton Rouge regional, the LSU starting pitching turned out to be what it had been all season long—questionable, not good enough to threaten a conference or World Series title.

Any great team starts with great pitching. The 2019 LSU pitching was far from great.

Zach Hess simply never came close to being what everyone expected him to be. Jaden Hill got hurt. Henry was hurt much of the way. Nick Storz was hurt again and never saw the field. AJ Labas missed the entire season after shoulder surgery.

Caleb Gilbert never pitched. Marceaux struggled for a couple of months. Todd Peterson started slowly before rebounding. Eric Walker was not the same pitcher he was in 2017.

Now, LSU must sweat out who signs to play professionally among its outstanding recruiting class that were drafted recently. Paul Mainieri and Alan Dunn must hope for better health for the likes of Hill and Henry, among others.

To be an Omaha team and a threat to win it all, you must have an ace whom you can count on every time out to give you a good to great outing. LSU had the equivalent of three No. 3 starters pitching on weekends much of the season.

It will be the 17th College World Series for Florida State under Mike Martin, who is looking for his first national title in his final season.

The Seminoles are a hot team playing with confidence. They are a team playing with a purpose, to send Martin out in grand fashion. They were simply the better team in Baton Rouge. Martin is a class act and the baseball world is happy for him and rightfully so.

What was a good season for LSU ended in disappointing fashion.

For most programs, making the final 16 is a very good season. For LSU, that is not the case, with the bar set so high, the facilities, commitment and with the expectations for a team that was ranked No. 1 by many in the preseason.

While “The Box” remains the best venue in the nation, it is not as intimidating as it once was. This was the third Super regional loss by the Tigers at home since 2012.

It is a long way from the final 16 to No. 1. It will be a long offseason for Mainieri and the Tigers. The table was set. Dinner was served but the menu was not suitable with Florida State refusing the order. As a result, many are cancelling reservations for Omaha.

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Ken Trahan

Ken Trahan

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…

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