LSU Baseball—The Cardiac Cats: The Story Of The 2008 LSU Baseball Team
The year was 2008.
The score was 10-10 between LSU and Georgia.
The game was called after 12 innings due to SEC travel rules, and LSU went home in 11th place in the SEC with seemingly no chance of any postseason.
Then came the Tulane game on April 22nd when LSU scored five runs in the final two innings to win 8-4 and began a 23-game winning streak that helped pave the Tigers' way to Omaha.
As the Tigers picked apart their opposition with high-powered offensive weapons, such as Matt Clark and Blake Dean, each team in the SEC started to crumble and fall below them in the rankings.
Each one of the teams they swept—South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Auburn—helped them skyrocket into first place in the SEC West and an eventual SEC Championship.
Their run in the SEC Tournament, however, did not begin like they had planned.
After eight innings, South Carolina was holding a four run lead and a sure spot into the winner’s bracket. After back-to-back walks and one out, Matt Clark stepped up to the plate. It only took three pitches for Clark to hit the baseball back to Baton Rouge, his 20th homer of the season, to make it 4-3 with only one out.
After a pitching change, another walk, and a Nicholas Pontiff strike out, the Tigers were down to their last out.
But then there was Ryan Schimpf, and his double to left field tied the game at four going into extra innings.
After a quick top of the 10th for the Gamecocks, the Tigers were in position to come back and continue their incredible streak. After a Jared Mitchell strikeout, Blake Dean approached the plate and hit the ball so far it needed clearance from the Air Force, a home run to win it for LSU.
Just before this winning streak, LSU was in 11th place and seemed to have no chance of winning anything, but following the streak they were granted a Regional, which they won easily, followed by a Super Regional where they had to face the Anteaters of UC-Irvine.
The Tigers were riding a 23-game winning streak heading into their first game of the Super Regional against UC-Irvine and felt they were nearly untouchable.
Game one at Alex Box Stadium did not go the way the Tigers had hoped it would, and the Anteaters took the first game 11-5 and put LSU one game away from elimination.
Game two began slow until the bottom of the fourth when UC-Irvine erupted for six runs and had many Tiger fans ready to head home. LSU continued to struggle, and the offense that had kept them alive all season had yet to arrive in the Super Regional.
As fans began to chant and cheer and try to do something to wake the Tigers, Jared Mitchell homered and Clark hit a single to right to score Blake Dean and cut the lead to three at 7-4 heading into the ninth and final inning ever to be played in original Alex Box stadium—unless the Tigers could make a miracle happen.
The Cardiac Cats never surrendered, and they believed that nothing is over until the fat lady sings. They fought back and found themselves in position to win the game.
After scoring five runs in the ninth, LSU had done it again—they had come from behind to win for the 29th time this season and sent the Super Regional into a decisive Game three.
Game three started better than any other game in the season as the Tigers opened up with back-to-back-to-back home runs and took a 6-0 lead. They never looked back as they went on to win 21-7.
How else could the final season and final series in the Original Alex Box stadium end?
That was exactly how it was supposed to go down.
After a first round loss in Omaha to North Carolina, the Tigers had to face another powerhouse, Rice, in an elimination game.
Rice came out with a hard nosed defense and overpowering pitching that kept LSU shut out for six innings.
The Tigers had been there before, though. They trailed 5-2 going into the bottom of the ninth with their tournament lives at stake. After Nicholas Pontiff grounded out, LSU started to feel the pressure of heading home.
But after Derek Helenihi singled and Sean Ochinko got hit by a pitch, the Tigers felt they could do it again.
Michael Hollander had to hit the ball hard to keep it going, and he nailed one into center field to bring in another run to cut into the deficit and make it 5-3 with two men still on base.
The pressure that Rice started to feel, even winning in the bottom of the ninth, hurt them, and they made mistakes they probably would not have made against any other team.
With two runners on first and second, Jared Mitchell hit into what should have been a routine double play if the shortstop had not bobbled the ball. It was the error that LSU needed to continue their improbable season, and it loaded the bases for Blake Dean.
Blake Dean was no stranger to clutch performances—he had hit two game-winning homers in the season and knew what it took to win.
On a 2-0 pitch, Dean drove the ball off the wall in left field. By the time the ball hit the bat, Jared Mitchell knew it was a hit and took off for home, knowing he was the winning run. As it bounced off the wall, he rounded third behind two others to touch the plate and send Tiger fans into the hospital with their 30th come-from-behind win of the 2008 season.
The Tigers lasted about eight innings, in two nights, before the Tar Heels hit a grand slam in the top of the ninth to send the Tigers home for good. It would seem the Tigers got a taste of their own medicine for once.
The 2008 LSU baseball season was an incredible one, and the only thing that would outshine it would be 2009's College World Series Championship, LSU's sixth in history.
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