BATON ROUGE, La. – No. 3 national seed Louisiana State scored early and often and cruised to a 10-3 victory over 21st-ranked Minnesota in the final of the Baton Rouge Regional Sunday night at Alex Box Stadium.
LSU starter Louis Coleman was dominant through most of the game, allowing only one run in 7.2 innings. The Golden Gophers were already overmatched having played earlier in the day, and a pair of missed opportunities swung the momentum in the Tigers’ favor early in the game.
“I knew Minnesota was going to be a little bit thin on their (pitching) staff, we were going to get some pitches to hit, and I felt like we wouldn’t miss that many of them” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “It’s always nice when you stay even early until you get your feet, and that was great to get an early lead.”
Minnesota let a chance to take a first-inning lead get away when it didn’t capitalize with a runner on third base and one out. Matt Nohelty reached on an error leading off, and one out later Derek McCallum put runners on the corners with a single, but Coleman recorded back-to-back strikeouts to escape the jam unscathed.
“I just tried to keep hitting my spots,” Coleman said. “There was never any doubt in my mind about the eight guys behind me. I just had a lot of confidence in the guys behind me and was fortunate to get out of there.”
LSU took advantage of an error to jump out to a lead in the top of the second. Micah Gibbs led off with a single, and one out later Sean Ochinko hit what could have been an inning-ending double play, but third baseman Kyle Geason committed a fielding error, allowing LSU to put two on with one out.
DJ LeMahieu drilled a RBI double to the gap in right-center, and Derek Helenihi followed with a two-run single to put the Tigers on top 3-0. Ryan Schimpf’s RBI double plated another run, but then inning ended as Jared Mitchell was thrown out trying to score from first base.
Blake Dean added on another run with a solo home run just inside the left-field foul pole leading off the third inning. Later in the inning, Ochinko added a RBI single and LeMahieu brought in a run with a sacrifice fly to extend the Tigers’ lead to 7-0.
“We obviously were thin on the mound, and we tried to do the best we could with what we had to work with,” Minnesota head coach John Anderson said. “It’s a tough task when you’re facing Louis Coleman; he’s an outstanding pitcher.”
Minnesota starting pitcher Allen Bechstein worked a scoreless fourth inning before turning the ball over to Tim Ryan out of the bullpen. Bechstein allowed seven runs – five earned – on nine hits with one walk and one strikeout.
Coleman’s back-to-back strikeouts to end the first started a string of 11 straight set down before Eric Decker hit a one-out double in the fifth. Five of the 11 straight outs came by strikeout.
Justin Gominsky followed with a bunt single to put runners on the corners with one out, but the Gophers missed another opportunity as Coleman struck out Geason and got Nohelty to ground out to keep LSU’s lead at 7-0 after five.
LSU padded its lead with another run in the sixth. Mitchell singled, stole second base and came around to score on a RBI single from Dean. Gibbs then added a RBI double to extend LSU’s lead to 9-0.
Mitchell’s steal was his 33rd of the season, moving him into a tie for third place on the LSU single-season stolen base list.
The Gophers missed another opportunity in the sixth, though this time it wasn’t their fault. AJ Pettersen led off with a single, and McCallum followed with what replays showed should have been a single to right field. However, the umpires didn’t see the ball come out of Coleman’s glove when he tried to make a diving catch, and the Tigers easily converted a double play with Pettersen standing on second base.
Kyle Knudson finally got Minnesota on the board in the bottom of the seventh with a leadoff home run, but the Gophers were unable to get anything else going offensively.
“It’s tough for the season to come to an end like this, but we knew we were playing a tough team,” McCallum said. “We knew we were kind of running out of gas with two games in a day.”
Schimpf got that run back when he hit a no-doubter to right field with two outs in the top of the eighth to extend the LSU lead to 10-1.
Coleman retired the next five batters after Knudson’s home run before leaving to a standing ovation when he handed the ball to Nolan Cain with two outs in the eighth. Coleman picked up the win with 7.2 innings and one run allowed on five hits with no walks and eight strikeouts.
“I love for the fans to be able to share in the experience with our players,” Mainieri said. “That kid deserved that moment – he’s given so much to this program.”
Cain struck out the only batter he faced, and Daniel Bradshaw allowed a two-run homer to Nick O’Shea, but got the final three outs in the ninth to seal the regional championship.
LSU advances to the Super Regional, where it will take on the winner of the Houston Regional. Kansas State and Rice meet Monday to decide who will travel to Baton Rouge to face the Tigers next weekend.