HATTIESBURG — Southern Miss led LSU 6-2 headed into the bottom of the ninth inning, and Pete Taylor Park was seemingly coming apart at the seams. Fans stomped on the metal grandstand and thundered U-S-M, U-S-M over and over and over. It was more like a football crowd than baseball.
The Golden Eagles had slammed three home runs. Starting pitcher Hurston Waldrep had delivered perhaps the performance of his life. LSU was on the ropes, and Southern Miss closer Landon Harper, so dependable all season long, was on the mound.
The Eagles needed just three outs. LSU needed four runs just to extend the game.
And then, well, you know what happened next. LSU scored those four runs in the ninth to extend the game and then won it with a single run in the bottom of the 10th for a 7-6 victory that was as exhilarating for the Tigers as it was devastating for the Golden Eagles.
Harper, who had allowed only 10 earned runs in 28 appearances all season, gave up four earned runs in one inning.
LSU now has to win just one game to advance to an NCAA Super Regional. Southern Miss must win three, and two of those will have to be over LSU.
Don’t know what the odds against that are, but they are sky-high. LSU will rest in the heat of Sunday afternoon while Kennesaw State and Southern Miss play one another to see who gets to come back Sunday night and face a fresh LSU team again.
Kennesaw State and Southern Miss share one regrettable fate. Both had LSU on the ropes on back-to-back nights. Neither could finish the deal.
“We just couldn’t put them away,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “We just couldn’t come up with that one pitch for a punch-out the way Waldrep had when he was in there.”
We should go no further without giving Waldrep his due. Actually, let’s let LSU coach Jay Johnson have the honors.
“Waldrep was outstanding,” Johnson said. “We faced (Tennessee All American) Chase Dollander (9-0) last Friday night and we faced Waldrep tonight. Those two are the two best pitchers we faced all season.”
That’s high, high praise and definitely deserved. After struggling with his control in the first two innings, Waldrep allowed only two hits to the explosive Tigers over the next 4.1 innings. He struck out 11 and at one time fanned six in a row and seven of eight batters. With each third strike, the home crowd got louder and louder. Waldrep was demonstrative himself, punching the air with each strikeout.
It was, both coaches said, a college baseball atmosphere that would be difficult to duplicate.
“Great for college baseball,” Johnson said.
“I can’t imagine it was like this at any other venue across the country,” Berry said.
All of which makes the defeat all the more crushing for the Eagles, who got home runs from Will McGillis, Carson Paetow and Christopher Sargent, who was playing with a sore lower back, but also added two singles to his home run.
“We played a really good game for the most part,” Berry said. “We just couldn’t get that last out in the ninth. Give LSU credit. They kept fouling off good pitches and did what it took to win the game.”
On Friday night, LSU rallied from seven runs behind in the eighth inning for a 14-11 victory over Kennesaw State. Dylan Crews, the LSU centerfielder and leadoff hitter, said then it was the greatest victory of his LSU career because of the circumstances. Turns out, it was the greatest victory for about 24 hours. What the Tigers did against a really good Southern Miss bullpen takes the proverbial cake.
“It’s about what’s inside of you,” Johnson, the LSU coach, said.
LSU has plenty.
We’ll find out how much moxie the Golden Eagles have Sunday afternoon when they go against a Kennesaw State lineup that has pounded virtually every pitcher it has faced in this regional.
Said Berry, “It’s all hands on deck. We face an incredibly hard task, but I feel like we can do it.”