As LSU shortstop Gavin Dugas stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the first, the Oregon crowd went silent, as if it knew what was coming next.
The cleanup hitter picked up right where he left off in Saturday’s two-homer performance, swinging away on the first pitch from right-hander Andrew Mosiello and knocking it over the center field fence to give his team an early 2-0 lead.
This one tested Oregon’s resiliency again, and again, and again, before finally falling short.
The LSU Tigers defeated the No. 14 Ducks 9-8 on Monday in PK Park, bringing an end to a historically successful season in particularly poignant fashion.
“For us, we’re always going to be on the aggressive, we’re going to use the plays that we have that are designed to eliminate runs and win games and tonight it didn’t work out,” Oregon head coach Mark Wasikowski said. “It’s very disappointing.”
By the second inning, the Ducks were in a 2-0 hole, but they led a swift response. Anthony Hall hit a frozen rope over the head of the first baseman, and went on to score by way of a Sam Novitske double to right-center.
The Ducks didn’t stop there. A deep fly to the right field gap from Sam Olsson made for a well-timed diving catch from Tigers center fielder Drew Bianco, but it gave Novitske just enough time to tag up, round third and score. After a frightening first, the Ducks were right back in it with the score knotted at two apiece.
Mosiello kept clean in the bottom of the second, giving his team a chance at a lead in the top of the third.
His team delivered, just as they had all year.
A careful eye from Kenyon Yovan put a runner on as Aaron Zavala walked up to the plate from the third spot.
After looking at his first two pitches, the power hitter swung away on a 1-1 fastball, sending the ball into the LSU bullpen in deep left. Just like that, the Ducks harnessed a 4-2 lead in the biggest game of the year.
After another strong showing from Mosiello in the bottom of the third, the Ducks’ offense kept blazing in the fourth, with singles from Olsson and Gavin Grant and an RBI single from Tanner Smith in the leadoff spot increasing the Oregon lead to 5-2.
But Dugas wasn’t done. On the first pitch of the bottom of the fourth, the left fielder knocked over the fence in deep left, closing the Ducks’ lead to 5-3 and breathing life into the LSU offense. It was his fourth home run in two games, and he’d accounted for all of the team’s runs through the first.
LSU’s Drew Bianco singled up the middle before making his way around the bases in whack-a-mole fashion. Mosiello was fixated, working his pickoff move every chance he got, but back-to-back wild pitches paved the third baseline for Bianco, who scored with ease and brought the Tigers within one.
Taking the hill in the fifth, freshman right-handed pitcher Isaac Ayon faced the red-hot top of the LSU order. The Fresno native appeared stoic as he picked through the meat of the Tigers’ lineup, tallying back-to-back strikeouts and inducing a groundout to leave his first inning unscathed.
But before too long, the Tigers’ offense struck again as Bianco smacked a two-run homer to left-center in the bottom of the sixth, giving his team a 6-5 lead. The Tigers were not going away.
Nor were the Ducks.
The supporting cast delivered again. After Tanner Smith reached first on an error, Yovan teed off, taking one out over the center field wall. Just like that, the Ducks regained a one-run lead over the Tigers.
With no outs on the board, two LSU runners in scoring position and the Ducks leading by one, left-handed pitcher Kolby Somers paced the mound before lining up.
LSU’s Cade Beloso ripped a soft grounder down the first base line, reaching first on a fielder’s choice as Matthews looked to cut off Dugas taking off down the third baseline towards home. But it didn’t come in time.
Dugas slid headfirst into home, beating the tag and tying the game at seven.
With a runner on third and one out in hand, Somers turned to first for a pick-off move, but Matthews and Somers miscommunicated, causing the Ducks to balk in the go-ahead run. LSU had regained the lead, 8-7.
“I guess to put it simply, we didn’t execute one play in a series of plays,” Wasikowski said.
The Tigers would score another before the end of the inning on an RBI single to center field, increasing their lead to 9-7 heading into the ninth.
As was the case all night, the Ducks fought back yet again, but this time, it wouldn’t be enough. After a series of singles and an RBI groundout, the Ducks were within one before falling short with the tying run on third, losing in heartbreaking fashion.
Despite the loss, Wasikowski expressed pride.
“There’s a lot of joy to take in the big picture,” Wasikowski said. “I’m very proud of the guys I got to work with every single day. My coaching staff, the players, they committed to a ton this year.”