BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU shortstop Kramer Robertson, right fielder Greg Deichmann and second baseman Cole Freeman trotted toward their positions to start the bottom of the ninth inning, exchanged hugs with teammates, and walked arm-in-arm back to the dugout, soaking in a standing ovation.
The three seniors all could have left school when they were selected in the Major League Baseball draft after their junior year. To think of what they would have missed if they hadn't returned — and it's not over yet.
Omaha, Nebraska, awaits.
Robertson's three-hit game and Caleb Gilbert's five-plus innings of scoreless middle relief helped LSU clinch its 18th College World Series berth with a 14-4 victory over Mississippi State on Sunday night in the NCAA tournament's Baton Rouge super regional.
"I think we were all tearing up," Deichmann said of the moment when he, Robertson and Freeman came out of a game at home for the final time. "We all said to each other, 'We did it.' Our goal coming back from last year was tonight. We accomplished that goal. Now we move on to our next one, and it's the national championship."
LSU has six national titles in program history. The 2017 Tigers (48-17) will ride a 16-game winning streak into Omaha. They've also won 21 of 23.
"The train is rolling. I anticipate those guys are going to go to Omaha and win a national championship," said Mississippi State coach Andy Cannizaro, a former LSU assistant. "They have the most dynamic lineup in the country. Everyone is playing at a high level right now."
LSU trailed MSU (40-27) 4-3 entering the fifth, but seized control of the game with a six-run rally. Michael Papierski's bases-loaded double plated the first two runs. Robertson added an RBI double, stole third and scored on Hunter Stovall's two-out throwing error to make it 9-4.
WHAT A RELIEF: Gilbert (6-1) struck out six while allowing two hits and a walk over 5 2/3 innings.
The two hits he allowed were soft singles up the middle right after entering the game in the third inning. He then pitched five hitless innings.
"Fortunately for us we had a young man come in and meet the challenge and do a tremendous job," coach Paul Mainieri said. "He put the team on his back, steadied the ship. ... He minimized the damage and really dominated the game from that point forward."
RAIN, RAIN: Rain delayed the start of the game and interrupted play twice more before it ended at 1:36 a.m. local time.
It delayed a long-awaited celebration for Robertson, who did not accompany LSU's 2015 College World Series team to Omaha after a disappointing sophomore season spent mostly as a reserve.
"It's not like I haven't waited long enough for this moment," Robertson said. "I've waited my entire baseball career, my entire life to experience that dogpile and win a super regional, so I could wait through a couple rain delays."
Robertson finished with two RBI and three runs scored.
CHANGING ARMS: Mississippi State sent eight pitchers to the mound during the game.
Denver McQuary (3-4), the fourth pitcher of the game for Mississippi State (40-27), took the loss after giving up four runs in the fifth.
Mississippi State starter Jacob Billingsley didn't record an out before he was pulled from the game after giving up three singles and a walk as LSU took an immediate 2-0 lead.
Robertson led off with a single, Freeman walked, Duplantis singled home Robertson and Deichmann singled home Freeman.
Trey Jolly entered the game and got MSU out of the first without further damage, but had his own trouble in the second, allowing a walk, sacrifice bunt and Robertson's single before his balk on a fake pickoff attempt toward first base sent Papierski home with the Tigers' third run.
STRONG FINISH: LSU, which needed a late rally to pull out a 4-3 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-three super regional, made Game 2 a much less stressful affair. Playing as the visitor, the Tigers scored five in the top of the ninth, highlighted by Freeman's two-run double and Antoine Duplantis' two-run single.
Senior closer Hunter Newman finished off the victory for the Tigers and quickly wound up at the bottom of a pile of celebrating teammates near the mound.
EARLY RALLY: After struggling against LSU starter Jared Poche in the first two innings, the Bulldogs capitalized on the LSU lefty's sudden loss control in the third. Poche walked a batter, gave up a two-run homer to Harrison Bragg high over the left field wall, then walked the bases loaded.
Jake Mangum then hit a bounding ball up the middle off of Gilbert to tie it and Elijah MacNamee followed with a single to center to give the Bulldogs a short-lived 4-3 lead.
Posted on Mon, June 12, 2017
by By BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer