LSU kept running home in wild finish for win, and now it will likely be home for NCAA play

Glenn Guilbeau
The Daily Advertiser
LSU's Josh Smith (4) and Drew Bianco (5) celebrate their win over Auburn in an NCAA college baseball game at the Southeastern Conference tournament, Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
LSU's Giovanni DiGiacomo (7) cheers as Drew Bianco (5) slides in safely into home as Auburn's Rankin Woley (4) watches during a walk-off win on Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Ala. — The late comedian George Carlin liked to explain the stark differences between football and baseball.

"The object in football is to march downfield and penetrate enemy territory, and get into the end zone," he would say gruffly.

"In baseball, the object is to go home! I’m going home," he would say in a higher voice.

LSU did that in more ways than one on Thursday afternoon for a dramatic, 4-3 win over Auburn in the bottom of the ninth inning in the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. Three ways, actually.

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With LSU's Drew Bianco and Giovanni DiGiacomo on second and third, respectively, with one out, Auburn reliever Brooks Fuller's wild pitch to pinch-hitter Chris Reid got away from catcher Matt Scheffler, who blocked it well, but he just couldn't find it. The ball trickled away only a few feet from home toward first base. Then he panicked, and Reid noticed.

WATCH LSU's winning double "steal" of home

Reid then frantically waved DiGiacomo home. DiGiacomo had started that way as soon as he saw the pitch bounce in, but then he went back. Bianco, who was pinch-running for slow Saul Garza, had started to third at the same time, then went back to second.

Reid insisted and suddenly looked like one of the traffic cops waving cars in outside the Hoover Met. Then third base coach Nolan Cain signaled DiGiacomo home. And he made it to tie it 3-3. 

Scheffler, whose two-run home run in the ninth on Saturday at LSU tied that game 4-4 before Auburn won 5-4 in the 11th, never found Fuller's wild pitch. First baseman Rankin Woley alertly ran all the way in to retrieve it, but he panicke, too, and threw very late and wildly to the plate for DiGiacomo, who was easily safe. Had Woley just held the ball, the game would have remained tied with Bianco on third. But his throw was wide and to the left of Scheffler at the plate and sailed toward the third base dugout. So, Bianco started "going home" and made it.

Game over.

"He (Reid) may tell you he convinced me to go," DiGiacomo said. "But Nolan was saying the same thing. I froze at first. Then I took off."

Bianco followed DiGiacomo's lead again.

"Once I started rounding third, they still didn't have the ball so I started getting more and more close," Bianco said. "And then they threw it away, and I was like, 'Yeah, I'm going to score here.'"

DiGiacomo started the ninth inning rally with a lead-off single. Then Garza singled and chugged to second when an outfield throw tried to get DiGiacomo at third, but was late. Brandt Broussard lined out to left field before Reid stepped up to pinch hit. Even without the two-run wild pitch, LSU still could have won on a Reid hit or one by Josh Smith, who was due up after Reid.

Just 13 hours after Mississippi State rode two third-strike wild pitches to a 6-5 win over LSU at 3:03 a.m. Thursday, the Tigers beat Auburn on a two-run, wild pitch on about three or four hours of sleep as a team. 

"There's a saying in baseball," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "Every day that you show up, you could see something you've never seen before. That happened today. We got a walk-off win with two runs scoring on a wild pitch. But actually, I feel like we earned it."

The baseball gods clearly owed LSU one after it had a 5-4 win in the 16th against State only to see a rare fielding error by second baseman Brandt Broussard allow the tying run to score before the 6-5 loss. 

And now No. 17 LSU (36-23) is most likely "going home" for the NCAA Regional on the weekend of June 7-10 to host at Alex Box Stadium. The Tigers have enhanced their No. 20 Ratings Percentage Index ranking by winning two SEC Tournament games around that gut-wrenching loss to No. 4 RPI Mississippi State in a SEC Tournament and LSU record 17-inning and six-hour, 43-minute game on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

The Tigers advance to play No. 4 seed and No. 3 RPI Mississippi State (45-12) again tonight at about 6:30. State lost 1-0 in the late game Thursday to No. 1 seed Vanderbilt (47-10). No. 2 seed Arkansas and No. 7 seed Ole Miss play today's first elimination game at 3 p.m. LSU and State will play 30 minutes after the conclusion of that game. 

"I don't even want to thank about tomorrow yet," Mainieri said Thursday night.

LSU's pitching plan for today looks like attendance on the Monday after a Super Bowl as the Tigers used seven pitchers over the last two games and another four in the first game on Tuesday.

"We might be picking names out of a hat," Mainieri said.

Sophomore Devin Fontenot (5-1, 3.79 ERA, 6 saves) is a likely starter or one who could throw a lot of innings. He last pitched on Tuesday, going four and one-third innings of relief for the 8-6 win over South Carolina in a SEC Tournament opener as he allowed only one hit and no runs with two walks and four strikeouts. He is the only LSU pitcher who threw that day who has not pitched again, other than Cole Henry, who started that game on a rehabilitation assignment and is not likely to pitch again until the NCAA Regional, Mainieri said.

Todd Peterson (5-2, 3.30 ERA) could pitch Friday. He threw one inning and two thirds on Thursday for the win over Auburn, but he only logged 17 pitches with 13 strikes. He allowed one hit and no runs with one walk and two strikeouts. He did not pitch on Wednesday.

LSU's first comeback in this one happened in the seventh inning when it scored once to tie it 2-2. With two outs, Josh Smith's single drove in Broussard from second to tie the game at 2-2. Broussard had walked with one out and stole second.

Auburn went up 3-2 in the eighth on a two-out RBI single by Edouard Julien off LSU reliever Todd Peterson (5-2), who ended up getting the win after allowing only one hit and no runs with a walk and two strikeouts in an inning and two-thirds. Reliever Cody Greenhill (2-3) got the loss after pitching the final two and two-thirds. 

LSU freshman starter Landon Marceaux continued to blossom after mid-season arm soreness as he threw six and two-thirds innings without allowing an earned run and was up 1-0 through six innings. But LSU fell behind, 2-1, in the seventh.

LSU got off to an early start by taking a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Smith doubled, reached third on Antoine Duplantis' ground out to second, and scored on a Zach Watson ground out to to third.

Marceaux struck out five and walked one into the seventh inning. But Woley led off that inning by reaching on a Smith throwing error from shortstop. Devin Warner singled Woley to second, but Marceaux appeared to be on the way out of trouble when Broussard started a 4-6-3 double play from second base with Woley reaching third. But Kason Howell punched an infield single to second base to score Woley to tie the game, 1-1. Then Judd Ward doubled in Howell for a 2-1 Auburn advantage. Both runs were unearned.

Aaron George relieved Marceaux and immediately walked Ryan Bliss on four pitches, but he struck out Conor Davis looking to end the inning. George (2-1, 7.23 ERA), who threw only two-thirds of an inning Thursday, could also pitch tonight. He allowed one hit and one run with a walk and two strikeouts.

"Obviously, we're happy to stay another day in wonderful Hoover," said Mainieri, who has won this tournament six times since 2008 and has won at least two games in it for eight straight years now.

"But I'm 61. I feel terrible right now physically after that game last night," he said. "It seemed like cruel and unusual punishment to have to play today after losing that game. But the way we won today made me feel good to be their coach."