An overflow crowd of 5,972--the largest in Louisiana State baseball history--squeezed into Alex Box Field Saturday night, hungry for victory and bent on intimidating the visitors from Cal State Fullerton.
Fans greeted the Titans with chants of "Tiger Meat! Tiger Meat!" and booed them lustily when they took the field for an NCAA South I Region third-round game.
Into this fray stepped Fullerton freshman right-hander Mike Parisi. Into left-center field went Parisi's first pitch, deposited there by Tiger batter Russ Johnson for a double. And into a frenzy went LSU fans.
But into a state of panic, Parisi didn't go. Parisi escaped that jam and pitched five scoreless innings, silencing the Tiger crowd and leading the Titans to an 11-0 victory over the defending national champions.
Paco Chavez held the Tigers hitless over the last four innings, Fullerton knocked four pitchers around for 11 hits and took full advantage of six LSU errors to remain undefeated in the region.
The Titans (41-15) eliminated the third-ranked and top-seeded Tigers and will face Ohio State, which lost to Fullerton, 3-2, Thursday, today at 11 a.m. for the region championship.
A Fullerton victory would give the Titans their seventh College World Series berth. An Ohio State victory would force a second game for the title.
The Titans will start ace James Popoff today, but Coach Augie Garrido isn't ready to book passage to Omaha.
"I've seen too many of these to say we're in commanding position," Garrido said. "We have a good opportunity but we can't take it for granted. We have to stay focused. There are no givens."
LSU, which defeated Tulane, 7-3, earlier Saturday but managed only four hits in that game and four against the Titans, finished at 50-16. It marked the first time since 1985 that LSU has lost a region tournament.
Jeremy Carr led the Fullerton attack with three hits, three runs and an RBI. Chris Powell scored three runs and knocked in another. Jason Moler had two hits and two RBIs. And Dante Powell had two hits and scored twice.
Fullerton scored once in the second, twice in the third and once in the fourth but broke the game open with four in the sixth. The Titans added three insurance runs in the eighth, and made several fine defensive plays, but the key to the victory was Parisi, who had started only four games this season and improved to 4-1.
He changed speeds on his breaking balls and kept the Tigers off-balance throughout his four-hit performance. And he didn't get rattled by the large crowd or Johnson's game-opening hit.
"I was real nervous--I've never pitched before so many fans," Parisi said. "The toughest part was warming up in the bullpen, because they really get on you. But once I got onto the mound, I got into a zone, I was doing what I do best. The nerves were definitely out of the way after the first inning."
Credit Fullerton third baseman Phil Nevin with an assist. After Johnson's lined double, Parisi expected to hear some encouraging words from Nevin, the Titans' All-American, something along the lines of "Relax, it's OK, don't worry about it."
He guessed wrong.
"He said, 'God, I've never seen anything hit so hard,' " Parisi said. "I started laughing, and it really loosened me up. I didn't expect that at all. It helped me a lot."
So did a potent Titan offense. Fullerton held a 4-0 lead after four, but scored four runs in the sixth off LSU relief ace Rick Greene, who was forced into early service when starter Matt Chamberlain faltered.
Three Fullerton runs scored on consecutive RBI singles by Carr, Chris Powell and Nevin. Moler topped the rally off with a sacrifice fly to center, which scored Powell to make it 8-0.
Because the preceding Ohio State-Providence game went 12 innings and included two rain delays, LSU and Fullerton didn't get under way until 9:15 p.m. (CDT), 1 hour, 45 minutes after the scheduled 7:30 start.
But the Titans showed no ill effects from the delay, scoring a run in the second, two in the third and one in the fourth to take a 4-0 lead.
Steve Sisco started the rally in the second, reaching first on Tiger second baseman Todd Walker's fielding error and scoring when LSU third baseman Johnson, after fielding Jim Betzsold's grounder, threw wildly past first.
Sisco, who was running on Betzsold's hit, scored without a throw, and Betzsold went all the way to third. Nate Rodriquez then missed on a suicide-squeeze attempt, and Betzsold was tagged out at home despite slamming into LSU catcher Adrian Antonini.
It proved a costly play for Betzsold, who fractured his right clavicle in the collision and is likely out for the season.
Moler added an RBI single in the third. Another run scored on center fielder Armando Rios' fielding error, and Sisco singled and later scored on a double play in the fourth.
Fullerton backed Parisi with several outstanding plays, three of them coming in the fourth inning. Nevin handled Walker's hot one-hopper at third and threw Walker out, D.C. Olsen made a diving grab of Chris Moock's grounder down the first-base line and threw to Parisi for the out, and Dante Powell, after a long run, made a diving catch of Will Hunt's fly to left.
"The difference in the game was the balls they hit hard that could have built momentum for them were handled with some good defensive plays," Garrido said.
And the Titans, who have won regionals in hostile territories such as Mississippi State, Texas and Arizona, easily overcame the LSU crowd.
"Our kids don't get very much of this at home, and it creates a level of excitement they're not used to," Garrido said. "It's not intimidating. It's motivating."