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LSU-SC, Partie Deux: Game That Defies Explanation But Delivers Exhiliration

By Doug Kyle and Alex Day

They played a game for the ages in Hoover, AL on Saturday afternoon. LSU's home run by Steven Milam in the bottom of the 10th inning gave the Tigers a 12-11 come-from-8-behind walkoff win over South Carolina, and a slot in the Sunday Championship Game at 2 pm, facing the winner of Tennessee and Vanderbilt (later today), for the automatic bid to the NCAA Field of 64 announced on Memorial Day.

The auto bid would be but a formality for Tennessee, the #1 seed in the SECT and expected to host as a Top 8 seed regardless of today's outcome. The urgency has been at a bit higher level for LSU (11 seed), South Carolina (10 seed) and even Vanderbilt (8 seed), which all needed to prove something to the NCAA selection committee that their sub .500 conference records shouldn't disqualify them from consideration.

And, all of them had a point. The SEC has won the last three national championships, had the most bids in 2023 and is generally regarded by objective evaluation and sources as the best college baseball conference there is. In fact, the only team at the tourney in Hoover this week who probably can't make a case to get in is Ole Miss, the 12 seed that went 11-19 and lost in the initial single-elimination round. Even they gave 5 seed Mississippi State all they wanted, losing 2-1 on a walkoff homer with two outs in the bottom of the 9th.

But, enough setup. This game was like watching a Rocky movie with gloves and bats. As the eventual victor, if Rocky Balboa was LSU, he was getting pounded by Apollo Creed 8-0 early before starting to make it a fight. LSU came back and pulled with 8-6, 10-7, 10-9, and after tying the game 10-10 in the bottom of the 9th with no outs, seemed poised for a magical walkoff consistent with LSU Baseball through the years. Credit South Carolina, though, they retired three straight LSU batters, and the 10th inning followed.

That's when things got weird, actually after three, correction, after two were out. With runners on the corners and two out, South Carolina tried to steal home. It wasn't even close, the runner was dead to rights, and was unceremoniously out 3.

Or, was it? After discussion and review ad nauseum, a combination catcher balk/interference call was made, not just awarding South Carolina the go-ahead run, but moving up the runner and giving the batter first base. After debate that began to rival political races and also included the ejection of LSU Head Coach Jay Johnson, a simple ground ball ended the top half of the 10th, South Carolina now leading 11-10, which was the same score by which LSU had beaten them earlier. South Carolina was the 10 seed, LSU the 11, so perhaps those are some lottery numbers to look into, for those that celebrate.

Bottom of the 10th, LSU didn't waste much time. Hayden Travinski walked on a full count, and Milam launched his third pitch over the wall in left center field, touching off a celebration in purple and gold, and perhaps a deep breath of relief in blue that the complicated call in the top half hadn't decided the outcome. It just enriched it.

To its credit, the SEC did make coordinator of baseball officiating, Paul Guillie, available in the post-game press conference (raw video):

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