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

It is rare in our 21st-century era with cellphones and social media that we still experience moments of mass confusion.

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

Eighteen minutes of replays and umpire huddles and a coaching ejection and absolutely no clarification by the umpires to the folks inside Hoover Met or to the TV crew.

To everyone inside the ballpark, there seemed to be no reason for bewilderment. Jackson tried to steal home. LSU pitcher Griffin Herring saw the attempt, threw home and Tigers catcher Brady Neal tagged out Jackson 3 feet in front of the plate.

Then South Carolina coach Mark Kingston hopped out of the dugout to talk with the umpires. He asked them to look at something. When asked later what exactly he said, Kingston was coy. But his words were convincing enough to get the four men in blue polos to huddle up. A few minutes later, with no word given to the crowd, LSU coach Jay Johnson ran up to the umps livid and was quickly ejected.

Shortly after, Kingston walked back to his dugout. He said a few words to Jackson then gave him a fist bump. Jackson exploded in excitement, hopping around the dirt, celebrating with his teammates as he urged the fans to get louder.

That was at 4:11 p.m. local time. Still, no one knew what happened.

Asked after why no one could have turned on a microphone and explained the situation to the fans and viewing public, SEC coordinator of umpires Paul Guillie said it was too complicated.

Basically, he said, the call at home was a judgment play. Then Kingston came out of the dugout and the crew huddled to get the call right. Then they had to get an interpretation of the rule. Then a question of whether the play is reviewable (it isn’t). Then LSU appealed if the runner actually touched home. Then LSU wanted to protest, but the play couldn’t be protested.

“The decision was made that we felt like we would have probably confused people,” Guillie said, “more than trying to come over a microphone in this type of environment and explain it.”

Eventually at 4:20 p.m., the official scorer told those in the press box that Jackson scored because of a balk and that the batter, Parker Noland, would advance to first on catcher’s interference.

After the game, Guillie sat at a dais in front of reporters, flipping around the the official rule book like it was a dictionary. He said that the rule book makes it clear that in an attempted steal of home, if the catcher steps in front of home without possession of the ball, the pitcher is charged with a balk and the catcher with interference.

Said LSU coach Jay Johnson: “I’ve never seen that called before. I’ve got to be honest.”

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

Instead, South Carolina led 11-10 on one of the luckiest breaks you’ll ever see. And, yet, it didn’t make a difference in the game. Because just a few minutes after the dust settled on a bizarre ruling, LSU’s Steven Milam blasted a two-run walk-off home run to give LSU the win.

The Gamecocks (36-23) will return home to await their NCAA Tournament fate. The tournament’s selection show is noon Monday on ESPN2.

It seemed likely, though, in the ninth inning on Saturday that South Carolina was on its way to the program’s first SEC Tournament final in 20 years.

Then, three outs from an improbable win, the demon of this South Carolina baseball team rose from the depths of Hoover and cursed it once more.

This Gamecocks team cannot run from errors.

It can play on a new day against a new team. It can insert a new pitcher. It can change its defense. It can bench a player in the middle of a game. It can try and run from the defensive scars. But they will keep appearing.

This week in Hoover, South Carolina committed 12 errors — and that’s not including a handful of other blunders that somehow weren’t recorded as errors.

“We’ve got to dig into it,” Kingston said of the defensive miscues. “(We’ve) got to talk to our players, communicate a little bit, ask them as we get to a regional, ‘Is there anything we can do to help get you more ready?’ ”

Just three outs from beating LSU on Saturday, LSU’s Alex Milazzo laid down a bunt with a man on base. South Carolina third baseman Lee Ellis fielded the ball, looked to throw the runner out out at third, but no one was covering. All good, Ellis still had an out at first.

Except he airmailed the throw over the head of 6-foot-4 first baseman Ethan Petry. The tying run scored. LSU won the contest an inning later.

The ironic part of the whole deal: Ellis was only in the game because starting third baseman Talmadge LeCroy had been benched for poor defense. LeCroy wasn’t officially tagged with any errors, but there’s a good argument he committed two.

In the fourth inning, LSU’s Michael Braswell hit a two-out chopper right at him, but rather that square it up, LeCroy got on a knee and tried to field the ball outside his body. It darted past him and into left field. A few batters later, Hayden Travinski smacked a ball to third that LeCroy tried to backhand. It darted right past his glove.

LSU scored six runs in an inning that should’ve ended unceremoniously.

Instead, the Tigers had hope. And even a wacky play and an even-more head-scratching reviews couldn’t break LSU.