FSU capitalizes on plethora of LSU mistakes to end Tigers season

Florida State defeats LSU 5-4 in extra innings to win Super Regional

Seth Dunlap
June 09, 2019 - 8:20 pm

Nothing has been easy this season for the LSU baseball team.  Perhaps it's fitting, then, that the Tigers would need extra-innings as they tried to keep their season alive against Florida State in the Baton Rouge Super Regional.  

Before getting to the late-game heroics and hearbreak, it's best to rewind and remember the quagmire the Tigers put themselves in early.  LSU was again plagued by major mistakes that either cost themselves runs or led to Florida State's own crooked number innings. 

First, it was catcher Saul Garza, who was at the center of a massive baserunning mistake yesterday that derailed a possible big LSU inning.  Today it was Garza having issues behind the plate.  With the bases loaded and nobody out for FSU in the bottom of the 2nd inning, pitcher Landon Marceaux induced what looked like a fairly routine ground ball double play.  The initial throw was to first for an out, with the throw then going home in plenty of time to nail Robby Martin, who was trying to score from third.  Garza, however, couldn't hang on to the throw and Martin was ruled safe.  Instead of two outs and a possible scoreless inning for FSU, the floodgates were opened.  The Seminoles would score three runs in the inning to take a 3-0 lead, an advantage they wouldn't relinquish until the 8th inning.  

The disturbing trend of uncharacteristic mistakes would continue.  Giovanni DiGiacomo was picked off of third base in the 6th inning with runners on second and third and only one out for LSU.  To make matters worse, DiGiacomo was picked off after hitter Zach Watson watched ball-three sail by to put himself ahead 3-0 in the count.  Watson would walk one pitch later.  Instead of the Tigers loading the bases with only one out, they would have to settle for just one runner in scoring position with two outs while trailing by multiple runs.  Cade Beloso flew out harmlessly in the next at bat, ending the threat for the Tigers.

Among those frustrated by the consistent baserunning mistakes was WWL's Kristian Garic, who had seen enough of these errors by LSU players in the postseason.

"The base running mistake from Giovanni DiGiacomo in the top of the 6th inning was inexcusable and, to be frank, completely killed the inning for LSU after they had FSU on the ropes," Garic said after the game.  "The game could have been lost on that play.  LSU looked like the team adversely impacted by the pressure of playing at the Box, not FSU." 

Still, there was no quit in the Tigers.  Behind a capacity crowd at Alex Box Stadium, whose home fans were consistently imploring their team to make a combeack, the Tigers would finally get even in the 8th inning.  Josh Smith led off the inning with a double, and scored two batters later on an RBI double from Antoine Duplantis.  Daniel Cabrera followed with an infield single, putting the go-ahead run on base for Zach Watson.  The junior center fielder would deliver an RBI single for the Tigers that tied the game, but Watson was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double.  Another frustrating baserunning mistake for LSU started to close the door on another possible big inning, and that door was slammed shut when Cade Beloso grounded out to third to end the inning.

That set the stage for late game heroics for both teams.  The game was now knotted at 4-4, and each team had most of of their late-inning hurlers ready to throw. 

Devin Fontenot returned to the mound for LSU in the bottom of the 8th, his third straight inning of work.  Fontenot breezed his way through the Seminoles hitters, pitching one of his best innings of the year with two strikeouts and one long fly-out.  He ended this inning with a classic nine-pitch duel against Nander De Sadas, ending with a Fontenot punch-out.

LSU would send up the bottom of their lineup in the 9th inning and the trio of Garza, Chris Reid, and Brand Broussard would be quickly sent down in order by Antonio Velez, who was working his second inning in relief of Seminoles' starter C.J. Van Eyk.

Florida State would send up their No. 8 hitter, Matheu Nelson, to lead off the bottom half of the 9th inning.  Fontenot, being stretched into an unusually lengthy relief appearance, walked Nelson to lead off the inning.  Lead-off walks have been a bugaboo for the Tigers all series long.  Fontenot would bounce back to strikeout nine-hole hitter Tim Becker, and Garza followed by throwing out Nelson, who was attempting to steal second base.  Mike Salvatore would draw a walk with two outs, sending up Reese Albert, a thorn in the side of LSU who hit two home runs in yesterday's FSU win.  The duel between Fontenot and Albert was a dramatic one, with Albert fouling off four two-strike pitches to keep himself alive.  Finally, Fontenot would win the battle by striking out Albert on a 2-2 count.

The game would head to the 10th inning, with the Tigers in the very unusual spot of playing as the road team in an extra-inning game.  LSU would get a two-out single up-the-middle from Duplantis to put the go-ahead run on base for Cabrera.  The sophomore slugger couldn't deliver, striking out on a nasty 2-2 slider form Velez.

Once again, the Seminoles had a chance to win it in their half of the inning and they'd get another shot at Fontenot, this time with the heart of their order.  Powerful No. 3 hitter Mike Salvatore looked like he may have beat out an infield single, tapping the ball past the bag at first leading to a head-up play from second baseman Brandt Broussard, who tossed the ball to Fontenot covering just in time.  The Seminoles thought Fontenot's foot may have been off the bag, but the call was upheld upon review.  Fontenot would then strikeout Martin and J.C. Flowers to quickly end the inning.

The lock-down pitching again put LSU in position to take the lead in the 11th inning but LSU couldn't take advantage, getting only a two-out single from Garza before a Chris Reid strikeout ended the Tigers' threat.  Florida State didn't have any better luck against the brilliant Fontenot, going down in order in the bottom half of the inning.

Another opportunity for LSU, but more futility.  Velez, who had nearly been matching Fontenot's sensational night, allowed only a one baserunng after hitting Drew Bianco with a two-out pitch.  Once again, it would be up to Fontenot to save the Tigers from elimination.

After striking out pinch hitter Nico Baldor, the Seminoles would finally break through with a hit off of Fontenot with a single to center by Salvatore.  With the dangerous Albert at the plate for FSU facing an 0-2 count, Garza would have more problems behind the plate when he couldn't hang on to a high fastball, allowing the passed ball to get to the wall behind him.  Salvatore would scamper down to second base, putting the winning run in scoring position.  Fontenot would strike out Albert, setting up a two-out battle with Mendoza.  Fontenot would get ahead early in the count, but Mendoza would eventually lace a 2-2 pitch into left field for a base hit, scoring Salvatore and sending Florida State into celebration after the 5-4 win.

Fontenot had an incredible night on the mound, despite the ending.  He went 6.2 innings while facing just 22 batters.  He struck out 10 and allowed only two hits.  The winning run scored off the Garza passed ball, and wasn't an earned run by Fontenot.  It was the best outing of the sophomore's career, and it came in the biggest of spots, an elimination game for LSU with the Tigers trailing or tied late in the game.  It was a materpience that should take its place in LSU baseball lore as one of the more incredible postseason performances in the program's history, but likely will be lost in the frustration of this 2019 season.

Most fans will be disappointed that this Tigers team, one that was ranked the nation's pre-season No.1 club by multiple publications, failed to reach the College World Series.  Garic echoed those frustrations.

"The Tigers season as a whole was marred by inconsistent play and injuries.  Paul Mainieri has some things to dissect this off-season.  Is his medical training staff diagnosing injuries properly? Is the arm care protection being conducted properly?  Is Allen Dunn still your guy as the team’s pitching coach?  Not to mention Mainieri has to find a few left handed arms for next season."

LSU's season is now over, and an offseason of soul searching begins.

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