Anything LSU could do, the Chanticleers did better.
“They out-coached us,” says Tigers’ head coach Paul Mainieri. “They out-played us. They were hungrier than we were this weekend. They get to get the trip to Omaha, and we get to put the bats away.”
From aggressive and effective base running to clutch hitting, Coastal Carolina one-upped the Tigers at their own game. But what stings the most for LSU is just how many opportunities they missed to seize momentum. They left 12 runners on base with 10 in scoring position. They also handed their opponent 14 fly-ball outs. Simply put, they didn’t make the Chanticleers work as hard as they could have on the mound.
“I just pitched to contact,” says Coastal Carolina starting pitcher Alex Cunningham. “I think I only had one strikeout tonight, but we got it done, and we got it done the right way.”
“You just tip your cap to him,” says LSU junior outfielder Jake Fraley. “He made some good pitches. But at the same time, we didn’t put the greatest swings on some balls in certain situations. We, as a team, know that and understand that.”
The mature Fraley, along with coach Mainieri and Jared Poche, gave the Chanticleers credit for playing great baseball all weekend, and rightfully so. The most impressive part about Coastal Carolina’s performance is how they withstood the atmosphere of Alex Box. It usually doesn’t take much to overpower an opposing pitcher or the defense behind him, but the Chanticleers settled their nerves and delivered big pitches and made big plays to wiggle their way out of every jam.
“In all honesty, this is the first time I’ve ever coached in a place where you couldn’t communicate at all,” says head coach Gary Gilmore. “They had opportunities and weren’t able to get a big hit the whole time. In that ninth inning, we were very lucky to get out of there with one run.”
That being said, it’s hard not to wonder whether the pressure got to the Tigers. As CCU’s Gilmore put it after the game, the expectations are unrealistic, and it’s never easy to get to Omaha. The Chanticleers thrived in the underdog role, much like LSU did in Alex Box and at the SEC Tournament against higher-ranked opponents like Florida and Mississippi State.
“There’s no doubt that these two wins here have to be the biggest wins in the history of our program,” says Gilmore. “To come on the road here in this environment and play and be successful is an incredible testament to this group of young men and the coaching staff I have.”
The Tigers finish the season 45-21 overall and should have a lot more experience returning next season. But for now, they’ll have to sit back and watch the College World Series and wonder what could have been.
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