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LSU Gone In Two For Second Straight Year

By Will Kimmey
June 21, 2004

OMAHA--It's not often that a blowout turns on the momentum of one play.

But a sixth-inning collision at the plate changed everything Monday as South Carolina tied the game, then tacked on four more runs to earn an easy 15-4 win against Louisiana State in a College World Series elimination game.

The Gamecocks move on to face the loser of tonight's Cal State Fullerton-Miami game, while the Tigers were eliminated in two games for the second straight year under coach Smoke Laval.

LSU (46-19) held a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning when South Carolina DH Nick Gardiner stroked a bases-loaded single into right field. Landon Powell scored from third base, and Kevin Melillo came right behind him from second. LSU right fielder Jon Zeringue fired the ball home but it got past catcher Matt Liuzza, who was positioned just in front of the plate. Melillo couldn't stop his momentum and thrust into Liuzza, staggering the catcher.

"The ball kind of took me up the line a little," Liuzza said. "I took my eye off the ball a little. The runner, he was in the right."

Home-plate umpire Bob Homolka ruled Melillo's run counted, then threw him out of the game for a flagrant collision with the catcher.

"I saw the ball get by as I was trying to see Liuzza and get an angle to slide around him," Melillo said. "I ended up hitting him."

It was a play similar to the one that happened Friday when Georgia's Justin Holmes plowed over Arizona catcher Nick Hundley, but Hundley had clear possession of the ball before the collision.

The call outraged the South Carolina team and its fans, and coach Ray Tanner presented his case to Homolka: "If that's the way you see it, I've got to live with it. But can we confer (with the other umpires)?"

The four umpires huddled, then crew chief Paul Guillie went down the left-field line to discuss the play with Jim Paronto, secretary-editor to the NCAA rules committee, and Dave Yeast, director of NCAA umpires.

"After consulting with the rest of the crew, it was determined that the act was not flagrant," Paronto said. "It is the policy of the NCAA umpire development program to take all measures possible to get the call correct, including consulting with all members of the crew, as was done in this case."

Melillo said he was grateful the umpires allowed him to remain in the game, and the South Carolina rally continued thanks to two more hits, two errors and two walks--making the score 7-3.

"One thing we usually stay away from is big innings," Laval said. "That time we didn't, and it started snowballing on us . . . That (collision) had nothing to do with it. We've got to defend the field and come up with timely hitting."

Gardiner's hit, which precipitated the collision, proved crucial in restoring the confidence of a South Carolina team that went scoreless in its CWS opener and had tallied just one run in its previous 15 innings. He executed the Gamecocks game plan of moving up on the plate and hitting the ball the opposite way against LSU starter Lane Mestepey to take the outside part of the plate away from him.

"(Gardiner) gave us a little breath of fresh air," Tanner said. "'Hey, we might be able to score a run or two.' It relaxed the guys so we could get a couple more. It was a big hit."

South Carolina piled on several late runs, scoring six in the eighth inning and two more in the ninth. Melillio ended up with four hits, two of which came after the collision play. First baseman Steve Pearce also added four hits, while Steven Tolleson had three, including a seemingly innocuous double to lead of the ninth inning.

That happened to be the only extra-base hit of the day as South Carolina (51-16) combined with LSU to set a CWS record with 34 singles. Miami and Tennessee set the previous mark with 30 in 2001.

South Carolina starter Aaron Rawl enjoyed one of his typical outings, three runs on 11 hits in 6 2/3 innings to improve to 13-4. "It was a Rawl-like effort," Tanner said. "He battles big-time. He's going to give up some hits but he doesn't give up many runs."

Yet Rawl also played a key role in helping the Gamecocks maintain their momentum following the six-run sixth. He worked his lone 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the sixth to squash any chance for LSU to get back into the game with a rally.

"I don't think (it was) demoralizing; that's a big word," LSU center fielder J.C. Holt said. "We tried to come back but couldn't get any momentum."

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