The LSU Baseball Nation has officially taken over Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
LSU fans were angered by a host snub from the NCAA Selection Committee despite the Tigers’ No. 25 Ratings Percentage Index and their hot 14-6 regular season finish, including a three-game sweep at No. 7 RPI Vanderbilt. But fans were enthused by an NCAA Regional invite to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, because of proximity so the LSU Nation showed up and then some Friday.
LSU fans in New Orleans had to drive just two hours to Pete Taylor Park, while those from Baton Rouge drove three. Many LSU fans live in southern Mississippi and Jackson as well, and the result was a near-capacity crowd of 5,039 at Pete Taylor Park on the Southern Mississippi campus. And most of those were of the purple and gold variety.
LSU slugger Dylan Crews could hear their yells and stomps on the aluminum seats near the LSU dugout when he stepped up in the bottom of the eighth with Kennesaw State leading, 11-10, with one out and the bases loaded.
“For us to travel and have the atmosphere like that was unbelievable,” said Crews, whose two-run double in the eighth gave LSU a 12-11 lead after it entered the inning trailing 11-4.
Those LSU fans hit a crazed crescendo on Crews’ clutch hit. After Jacob Berry was intentionally walked, Josh Pearson followed with a two-run single for a 14-11 lead that would be the final, and the crowd exploded again.
“Just happy to see that. I mean that right there is LSU baseball,” said Crews, a sophomore from the Orlando, Florida, area who is expected to be a high first round pick in the 2023 Major League Baseball Draft.
No. 2 Regional seed LSU (39-20) plays No. 1 Regional seed Southern Mississippi (44-16) at 7 p.m. eastern Saturday on ESPN +. USM beat No. 4 seed Army, 2-0, Friday in front of 5,045. No. 3 seed Kennesaw State (36-27) eliminated Army (31-25), 9-8, on Saturday.
OTHER SEC ACTION AND TV SCHEDULE FOR TONIGHT:
In other NCAA Regional action involving SEC teams on Saturday, No. 2 seed Vanderbilt eliminated No. 4 seed New Mexico State, 21-1, in an elimination game in Corvallis, Oregon, and No. 2 seed Georgia eliminated No. 4 seed Hofstra, 24-1, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
In games Friday with SEC teams, No. 1 overall seed Tennessee beat Alabama State, 10-0, in Knoxville, No. 2 seed Arkansas beat Grand Canyon, 7-1, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, No. 1 seed Texas A&M beat No. 4 Oral Roberts, 8-2, in College Station, No. 1 seed Florida beat No. 4 Central Michigan, 7-3, in Gainesville and No. 1 seed Auburn beat No. 4 Southeastern Louisiana, 19-7, in Auburn.
Two SEC teams lost Friday – Vanderbilt, 3-2, to San Diego and Georgia, 8-1, to Virginia Commonwealth. Ole Miss and Arizona were postponed by rain Friday until 9:20 p.m. Saturday on ESPN +.
Other SEC teams on television Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. eastern were Florida hosting Oklahoma on ESPNU, Auburn hosting Florida State on ESPN News and Tennessee hosting Campbell on the SEC Network. Other 7 p.m. SEC games on ESPN + are Louisiana at Texas A&M and Arkansas at Oklahoma State.
Crews, who finished 2-for-5 with three RBIs, gave LSU a 2-1 lead in the second inning with an RBI single. He leads LSU in home runs with 21, RBIs with 71 and triples with four while second on the team in hitting at .376.
The national freshman of the year by Perfect Game last year as the Tigers reached a Super Regional and a SEC co-player of the year this season, Crews embraced his Friday night more.
“I think this is probably one of the best moments of my career so far at LSU,” he said. “It’s just awesome.”
LSU sent 14 to the plate in the eighth inning and scored 10 runs on seven hits. Ten consecutive Tigers had reached and six had scored when Crews stepped up to the plate with one out and the bases loaded and Kennesaw State leading 11-10.
“I honestly haven’t felt more confident in my career up until that moment right there,” Crews said. “That’s what makes LSU legends. As soon as I hit it, I kind of blacked out a little bit. But as soon as I got on second base and everybody was going crazy, it was awesome. I just took it all in.”
Pearson had two hits and three RBIs in the eighth alone and finished 3-for-4.
“Wow,” first-year LSU coach Jay Johnson said. “Big fan of that eighth inning. A lot of people talk about character, culture and competitiveness. That was it on display. We didn’t swing at a ball the entire inning. We fought pitches off with two strikes. We hit mistakes. We stayed in the middle of the field. We hit the ball the other way. All the things when we’re going really good, you saw them in that inning.”
The Tigers’ comeback from seven runs down was their largest since fighting back from 7-0 to Cal State Fullerton in 1998 to win 13-11 in the NCAA South II Regional in Baton Rouge and eventually reach the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
“Honestly, it’s never over until it’s over,” Kennesaw State coach Ryan Coe said.
“Honestly, I’m still in shock of what just happened,” Crews said. “It’s crazy when you’re down by that much, and all of a sudden you’re just stringing hits here and there. And you look at the scoreboard, and you’re one run or two runs away.”
LSU now plays a Southern Mississippi team that beat it out for the home NCAA Regional with a No. 17 RPI in its home park.
“Bring it on,” LSU relief pitcher Devin Fontenot (3-2) said after shutting out Kennesaw State for three and a third innings of relief with six strikeouts and one walk for the win.
Johnson just shook his head when he heard that.
“It’s going to be an awesome night for college baseball in the South,” Johnson said after giving Fontenot a look.
The winner awaits the losers’ bracket survivor and will be one win away from advancing to the Super Regional round.
“The atmosphere’s going to be great,” Crews said.