Monday, June 12, 2000 • Attendance: 16,000 • Box score
LSU has put itself in prime position to reach the national championship game for the fifth time since 1991.
The Tigers, 2-0 in the College World Series, won't have to play again until Thursday afternoon as a result of the emotion stirred up by an assistant coach's mid-game pep talk.
Upset after watching the Tigers go hitless for the first five innings of Monday's game against Southern California, LSU Assistant Coach Turtle Thomas laid down the law.
"Coach Thomas got us together before the sixth, and I don't think you can really print what he said," LSU first baseman Brad Hawpe said. "But he got us fired up; he got us motivated. That's what we needed, a little kick in the backside."
Inspired by Turtle's snap, LSU went out and collected nine hits off six USC pitchers in the final four innings. Two of the hits were three-run homers by Hawpe that propelled the second-ranked Tigers to a 10-4 victory before an estimated 16,000 at Rosenblatt Stadium.
The win improved LSU to 50-17, with the last two wins coming in CWS play.
In order to get a chance to play for its 13th national title on Saturday, USC will have to battle back through the losers' bracket. The first step comes tonight at 6, when the fourth-and fifth-ranked Trojans take on Florida State in an elimination game.
The winner of that game must then defeat LSU twice to keep the Tigers out of the title game. That's what the Trojans did when they won in 1998, losing the opening game to the Tigers but then beating them in the bracket championship round.
"We need to go out tomorrow and beat that team," USC shortstop Seth Davidson said. "Then we'll have to come out against LSU, and we're going to have a better feel for what they're about. That's what happened the last time (1998). We lost the first game but then we came out, played hard and beat them two in a row."
The Trojans were 12 outs away from beating LSU on Monday. USC starter Mark Prior, who had faced LSU a year ago when he was pitching at Vanderbilt, had gotten the first 15 outs without allowing a hit and took a 3-0 lead into the sixth.
"Prior was just flying through us," Hawpe said. "He was getting two-pitch outs. He threw great pitches. He has as good of stuff as I've seen in college baseball. The pitches he made were unhittable."
Prior, a sophomore right-hander, struck out Ray Wright to open the sixth inning. That brought up LSU leadoff hitter Ryan Theriot, and USC moved third basemen Justin Gemoll in to protect against the bunt.
Theriot responded by bouncing a single into the spot where Gemoll would have been playing for LSU's first hit. Mike Fontenot followed with a hot shot that first baseman Alberto Concepcion got a glove on but couldn't handle.
After Prior got LSU slugger Brad Cresse to watch strike three cross the plate for the second out, Hawpe delivered a towering drive that wound up about eight rows into the right-center field bleachers to tie the game at 3-3.
"We found ourselves in one of those 'damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't' situations in the sixth," USC Coach Mike Gillespie said. "We felt that we had to protect against the drag bunt against Theriot because they need runners.
"You're always playing this guessing game: Do you lay back or come up? We came up, and he was able to get that first base hit over Justin's head. If we're back on Theriot, maybe we get that out. If we get that out, maybe we're back on Fontenot and we get that one, too. It's a could-have, would-have, should-have situation. Theriot's hit gets lost in the game because it ends up 10-4, but to me, that was a big, big play."
Theriot delivered again in his next two at-bats, driving in the go-ahead run in the seventh with a single and then scoring LSU's fifth run when Blair Barbier drew a bases-loaded walk off reliever Ronald Flores.
Theriot made it 7-4 in the eighth with a two-run single, and Hawpe punctuated LSU's comeback with another three-run homer that came within a row of clearing the right-field bleachers.
"Brad's two homers were the biggest hits," LSU Coach Skip Bertman said, "but I thought our defense was good, and I was proud of Ben Saxon and Trey Hodges. They both did great jobs."
Saxon started the game but left trailing 2-0 after Beau Craig's two-run homer with none out in the fourth. Saxon's exit was expedited by a blister he developed on his pitching hand. Hodges relieved, and he held USC to four hits and two runs in the final six innings while improving to 4-2.
"Trey and Ben have pitched in tough spots all year," Bertman said. "This went well for us. Their hitters are like all hitters -- if you deliver the pitches, you can get them out. And our guys delivered some good pitches."
Now, Bertman can sit back and ponder who will pitch Thursday night. He has plenty of options, not to mention an offense that has overcome a slow CWS start for All-America catcher Brad Cresse.
In spite of an 0-for-6 CWS for Cresse -- a .400 hitter with 30 homers -- the Tigers have scored 23 runs in their two games. That equals their highest output after two games in Omaha.
"More often than not, Brad Cresse has been our leading force," Bertman said. "He's been pitched to very well here, but our strength is that we have nine guys in that lineup who can move the ball. This is the best hitting team I've had, one through nine in the lineup. This group can hit."
Especially when it listens to Turtle.
-- Steven Pivovar