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LSU outlasts South Carolina to end Gamecocks' run in Hoover at SEC Tournament

In the 21st century, with its prevalence of mobile phones and social media, it is rare that we experience moments of great confusion.

But on Saturday afternoon, in LSU's 12-11 victory in the SEC Tournament semifinals, South Carolina's Blake Jackson stole home base with two outs in the top of the 10th inning and, well, it took 18 minutes for the next pitch to be thrown.

Eighteen minutes of replays and referee meetings, a coach was ejected, and the referees gave absolutely no explanation to the people at Hoover Met or the television crew.

To everyone in the stadium, there seemed to be no cause for confusion. Jackson attempted to steal home. LSU pitcher Griffin Herring saw the attempt, threw home, and Tigers catcher Brady Neal struck out Jackson three feet from the plate.

Then South Carolina coach Mark Kingston jumped out of the dugout to talk to the umpires. He asked them to look at something. When asked later what exactly he said, Kingston responded coyly. But his words were convincing enough to get the four men in blue polo shirts to huddle together. A few minutes later, with nothing said by the crowd, LSU coach Jay Johnson angrily ran toward the umpires and was quickly ejected.

Moments later, Kingston went back to his dugout. He said a few words to Jackson and then gave him a fist bump. Jackson exploded with excitement, jumping around in the dirt and celebrating with his teammates while urging the fans to raise their voices.

That was at 4:11 p.m. local time. Nobody still knows what happened.

When asked why no one could have turned on a microphone and explained the situation to the fans and audience, SEC referee coordinator Paul Guillie said it was too complicated.

Basically, he said, the home run decision was a discretionary one. Then Kingston came out of the dugout and the team conferred to get the call right. Then they had to get an interpretation of the rule. Then the question of whether the play was reviewable (which it isn't). Then LSU appealed if the runner did indeed touch home base. Then LSU wanted to protest, but the play couldn't be challenged.

“We made the decision because we felt we probably would have confused people more,” Guillie said, “than if we had tried to come on the microphone and explain it in that environment.”

At 4:20 p.m., the official scorer finally informed those present in the press box that Jackson scored on a balk and that batter Parker Noland would advance to first base due to an interference with the catcher.

After the game, Guillie sat on a podium in front of reporters and flipped through the official rule book as if it were a dictionary. He said the rule book makes it clear that if an attempted steal of home is attempted, the pitcher will be charged with a balk and the catcher will be charged with interference if the catcher steps in front of the home without possession of the ball.

LSU coach Jay Johnson said: “I've never seen anything like that called. I have to be honest.”

If Herring had simply stepped off the mound and thrown to his catcher, Guillie made sure it would have been an out.

Instead, South Carolina led 11-10 thanks to one of the luckiest breaks ever seen. And yet it didn't change the game. Just minutes after the dust settled on a bizarre call, LSU's Steven Milam hit a two-run walk-off home run to give LSU the win.

The Gamecocks (36-23) return home to await their fate in the NCAA Tournament, with the tournament selection broadcast airing Monday at noon on ESPN2.

However, in the ninth inning on Saturday, it seemed likely that South Carolina was on its way to the team's first SEC Tournament final in 20 years.

Then, three outs away from an improbable victory, the demon of this South Carolina baseball team rose from the depths of Hoover and cursed it again.

This Gamecocks team can't run away from mistakes.

It can play a new team on a new day. It can use a new pitcher. It can change its defense. It can bench a player in the middle of a game. It can try to run away from the wounds on defense. But they will always resurface.

There were 12 errors made this week in Hoover, South Carolina – and that doesn't even include a handful of other blunders that somehow didn't get recorded as errors.

“We have to address that,” Kingston said of the defensive errors. “We have to talk to our players, communicate a little bit and ask them when we get to a regional game, 'Is there anything we can do to help prepare you better?'”

Just three outs away from beating LSU on Saturday, LSU's Alex Milazzo laid down a bunt when there was a man on base. South Carolina third baseman Lee Ellis caught the ball and tried to throw the runner on third base out of the game, but no one covered. All good, Ellis still had an out on first base.

However, he sent the ball over the head of 6'4″ first baseman Ethan Petry. The tying point was scored. LSU won the game one inning later.

The irony of the whole thing is that Ellis was only in the game because third baseman Talmadge LeCroy was benched for poor defense. LeCroy was not officially charged with any errors, but there is a good argument that he committed two.

In the fourth inning, LSU's Michael Braswell hit a chopper right at him, but instead of catching it, LeCroy got to his knees and tried to catch the ball outside his body. It flew past him into left field. A few batters later, Hayden Travinski hit a ball to third base that LeCroy tried to catch with his backhand. It flew right past his glove.

LSU scored six runs in an inning that should have ended ingloriously.

Instead, the Tigers had hope. And even a crazy game and even more confusing reviews couldn't break LSU.

Anna Harden

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