It was all there for first-year LSU baseball coach Jay Johnson.
A Super Regional host site was waiting at Alex Box Stadium for this weekend in Baton Rouge, where LSU has won five times since 2008 to reach the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
“Honestly, I was not prepared to lose this game,” Johnson said after losing, 8-7, to Southern Mississippi in front of 5,256 at Pete Taylor Park Monday night. “I really believed we were going to win. I wanted to take these guys to Omaha so bad. It just hurts because I wanted to do it with this team.”
And Johnson didn’t care where.
“I knew we’d host if we won, but that had nothing to do with it,” he said. “I would’ve gone to Europe to play in a Super Regional with these guys.”
No. 1 seed Southern Mississippi (47-17) will do the honors instead and host a Super Regional for the first time in its history this weekend, and it will be against none other than in-state rival Ole Miss (35-22).
The No. 3 seed Rebels and embattled coach Mike Bianco, who lasted one game in the SEC Tournament last week and finished fifth of seven teams in the SEC West at 14-16, knocked off No. 2 seed Arizona, 22-6, on Monday to win the NCAA Regional in Coral Gables, Florida.
“The atmosphere is going to be just like this weekend with LSU’s passionate fans,” Southern Mississippi coach Scott Berry said. “The baseball fans in the state of Mississippi are the most passionate in the country. It’s not even close. This state is passionate about baseball.”
Ole Miss and Southern Mississippi drew a Pete Taylor Park record crowd of 6,346 for a 4-1 Rebels win on May 11. The two teams drew 4,530 to Trustmark Park in Pearl, Mississippi, on April 5 as USM beat Ole Miss, 10-7. Mississippi State, which won the 2021 national championship, and USM drew 6,387 to Trustmark Park on March 2 for a 7-1 win by USM.
“The state of Mississippi this weekend – that will be national exposure for us,” Berry said.
LSU’s fans, meanwhile, will not have a team in a Super Regional for just the second time since 2015.
“It’s hard to put into words right now,” said LSU junior designated hitter Gavin Dugas, whose solo home run in the bottom of the eighth tied the game 7-7 and erased what was a 7-4 lead by USM in the top of the seventh.
Southern Mississippi took the 8-7 lead in the top of the ninth when Chris Sargent and Slade Wilks singled to open the inning off LSU’s seventh pitcher – Eric Reyzelman. Danny Lynch’s sacrifice fly to left field scored the run. Tyler Stuart shut down LSU in order in the last of the ninth for the win to go to 4-0.
“You can’t prepare for anything like this,” Dugas said.
It was LSU’s second straight loss to USM, which prevailed Sunday night, 8-4.
“I’m kind of lost for words,” LSU slugger Dylan Crews said. “Never thought in my mind we we were not going to win that game. It sucks. It just wasn’t our time, I guess.”
Another SEC team to reach the Super Regional round other than Ole Miss Monday was Auburn, which beat UCLA, 11-4, in the continuation of a suspended game from Sunday. Auburn would have hosted its first Super Regional, but higher seed Oregon State beat Vanderbilt, 7-6, on Monday and will host. Florida was also eliminated Monday, 5-4, to Oklahoma.
Arkansas was playing at Oklahoma State Monday night with a Super Regional on the line. Tennessee and Texas A&M advanced to Super Regionals on Sunday and will host.
LSU drew within 7-6 in the seventh after two outs on RBI singles by Tre Morgan and Jordan Thompson.
USM trailed 4-3 after six innings, but it broke the game open with a four-run seventh inning to take the 7-4 lead off four LSU relievers, who allowed only two hits in the inning, but gave up two walks and hit a batter.
LSU’s first five relievers of the game overall, by the way, started off by allowing runners in this way – walk, walk, hit batsman, RBI single and two-RBI single with a fielding error thrown in for good measure. USM finished with 12 hits in all to 11 by LSU.
“It’s a simple game really,” Johnson said. “They’re infinitely better on the mound than us. We have work to do.”
Carson Paetow led off the disastrous LSU seventh for USM by walking off new Tiger pitcher Jacob Hasty, who promptly exited. Reliever Devin Fontenot then hit Dustin Dickerson, and Reece Ewing reached first to load the bases when Fontenot mishandled his bunt. Sargent tied the game 4-4 with a sacrifice fly to center field.
Wilks then greeted LSU reliever Bryce Collins with an RBI single for a 5-4 lead. After Collins walked Will McGillis, LSU’s fourth pitcher of the inning – Trent Vietmeier – replaced him and allowed a two-run single to Gabe Montenegro for USM’s 7-4 lead.
LSU’s bullpen allowed seven hits and four earned runs with five walks.
“We’ve got to pitch better. End of story,” Johnson said.
The Golden Eagles cut a 4-1 LSU lead after three innings to 4-3 in the top of the fourth. LSU starter Ma’Khail Hilliard allowed a lead-off single to Sargent, and Paul Gervase relieved Hilliard. He immediately walked Wilks, then allowed a single to Lynch to load the bases. Sargent scored on a passed ball by catcher Tyler McManus, and Montenegro’s RBI ground out to second base pushed across the second run.
Cade Doughty hit his 15th home run of the season and third in three days for a 4-1 LSU lead in the bottom of the third.
LSU jumped on Southern Mississippi starter Tanner Hall for a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first with four hits and a throwing error. Morgan singled in the first two, and Jordan Thompson followed with a bunt single for a 3-1 lead.
Paetow led off the game for USM with his 16th home run of the season for a 1-0 lead off Hilliard. So every LSU pitcher in the game allowed the first batter faced to reach.
“When I said, ‘painful,’ this is deep pain,” said Johnson, who left Arizona after last season following a trip to Omaha. “I didn’t want to ley myself think that we’re not playing this weekend. I want to win the national championship. That’s why I came to LSU – to make a bunch of runs at winning the national title. We’ll get there.”