Saturday, June 1, 1996
Louisiana State squeaked out a College World Series victory Saturday night because the Tigers finally stopped playing to lose.
Reliever Kevin Shipp kept the Tigers from squandering all of an eight-run lead by wriggling out of a ninth-inning jam to close out LSU's 9-8 win over Wichita State. Shipp struck out clean-up hitter Adam McCullough and retired pinch-hitter Ben Thomas on a fly ball to seal the upset of the third-seeded Shockers.
"He's got no pulse," LSU catcher Tim Lanier said, referring to Shipp. "He's ice out there."
The Tigers stopped a few pulses among the all-time record crowd of 22,154 at Rosenblatt Stadium by stepping to the verge of defeat after owning a 9-1 lead 4 1/2 innings into the game.
"We were very fortunate to win that game," LSU Coach Skip Bertman said.
The Tigers' good fortune hiked their record to 49-15 and advanced them to Monday's 2:35 p.m. game against second-seeded Florida. The Gators won Saturday's opening Bracket Two game with a 5-2 win over Florida State.
Wichita State, dropping to 54-10, faces a 6:35 p.m. elimination game Monday against the Seminoles.
"I'm proud of the way we came back, the way we battled after the third inning," Wichita State Coach Gene Stephenson said. "It's too bad we didn't set the tone right from the start of that game.
''The fact that we fell behind 7-0 and 9-1 to a club the quality of LSU and were still it in at the end says a lot about the character of this team."
And what does LSU's near collapse say about the Tigers?
"We had some guys who play frightened tonight," said Lanier, whose grand-slam homer gave LSU its 7-0 lead in the third. "You can fool a lot of people but you can't fool yourself. Having been here in '94, I was anxious to play. But we had some guys who weren't all that comfortable out there tonight."
That was evident when Wichita State started turning up the pressure in the late innings. The Tigers four errors that fueled the Shockers' comeback, and the three relievers who preceded Shipp to the mound couldn't stop the bleeding once the Wichita State players started chipping away at its big deficit.
"When Coach came out to take Patrick Coogan out, I told him, 'We have to stop playing to lose,' " Lanier said. "You could see it in everyone's eyes. Even when it was 9-5 and 9-6, we weren't playing on the offensive. We were trying to sit on the lead."
Bertman lifted Coogan after the sophomore right-hander surrendered Zach Sorensen's homer to lead off the ninth and put the tying run on board by walking Kevin Hooper, the Shockers' No. 9 hitter.
In came Shipp, who had been scheduled to start LSU's second game. He got Randy Young to hit a grounder to shortstop Jason Williams, who bobbled the play for his second error of the game.
Travis Wyckoff tried to advance the runners with a bunt, but Shipp pounced off the mound and fired the ball to third baseman Nathan Dunn to force Hooper. But Shipp moved the runners up 90 feet with a wild pitch, a mistake that forced the Tigers to intentionally walk Casey Blake to load the bases.
"I thought we had them right where we wanted them," said Blake, who had four hits and drove in four runs. "Up until the last pitch, I didn't think there was any way we were going to lose that game."
Shipp changed that by striking out McCullough on a 2-2 pitch. The junior right-hander then closed out the Shockers by getting Thomas to fly out to center fielder Mike Koerner.
"I knew when coach brought me in that he was going to have me throw a lot of curveballs," Shipp said. "I got away with a few that they fouled off. I was lucky. The last out, that was a pretty good curveball.
"When he hit it, I knew it was going to stay in the park. I was pretty happy."
Bertman was, too, although LSU's defense and relief pitching took away some of his joy.
"We're disappointed to have played so poorly," Bertman said.
On the other side, Stephenson talked of the pride he had in a team that refused to quit.
"We did a lot of good things in the last two-thirds of the game," he said. "I thought we were going to get it done. I'm proud as I can be of our guys. Any other team down 9-1 would have quit. Not this team."
Wichita State, which never trailed an inning in sweeping to the Midwest Regional championship, fell behind after the game's first pitch. Williams drove a fastball from Shocker starter Brandon Baird into the bleachers in right-center field for his sixth homer.
The Tigers added a run in the second, then hung a five-run inning on the board in the third. Brad Wilson singled home LSU's third run, although Stephenson argued unsuccessfully that Wichita State catcher Nathan Reese had blocked Dunn's path to the plate.
After Baird walked Justin Bowles to load the bases, Lanier slammed reliever Marc Bauer's fourth pitch into the bleachers in left field. Lanier had been hitting just .192 with runners in scoring position and had just one hit in the eight previous times he had come to the plate this season with the bases loaded.
"That's baseball," Stephenson said. "Sometimes the most surprising guys can be the heroes. We threw a bad pitch there. We threw it hard, we hit his bat and the ball went a long way."
Lanier's fifth homer put the Tigers ahead 7-0. The Shockers, who left 15 runners on base and had one thrown out at the plate (Jerry Stine in the second inning), got a run back in the third on Blake's first RBI single.
A run-scoring single by Lanier and Warren Morris' RBI double hiked LSU's lead to 9-1. Wichita State got a pair of runs back in its half of the fifth, scoring on Jeff Ryan's single and Stine's sacrifice fly.
The Shockers cut their deficit to 9-4 in the sixth on another Blake single, got within 9-5 in the seventh on Sorensen's RBI hit and made it a two-run game when Blake crashed his 22nd homer of the year, a two-run shot in the eighth.
— Steven Pivovar