HOOVER, Ala. — The Coleman name is famous for lanterns, and in an SEC tournament elimination game at Regions Park on Friday night, LSU right-hander Louis Coleman lit a path for the USC baseball team to head home.
Coleman shut down the Gamecocks in a 4-1 victory and offered further proof why he was named SEC pitcher of the year. The senior upped his record to 11-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.84 in an eight-inning effort as he held USC to seven hits, no walks and struck out six.
The 6-foot-3 Coleman, with his quirky delivery, pinpoint control and ability to mix pitches, did not allow a run until pinch-hitter Brady Thomas hit a long home run off the scoreboard in the eighth — the first of his USC career.
“He throws strikes. He comes across his body. It makes it hard for righties to see,” USC outfielder DeAngelo Mack said.
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Fellow outfielder Whit Merrifield agreed.
“He’s very deceptive. He pounds the zone. He locates very well,” Merrifield said. “He was on tonight, and when he’s on, he’s tough to beat.”
Coleman left the game after giving up singles to Merrifield and Mack to start the ninth. When reliever Chad Jones walked Jackie Bradley to load the bases with no outs, LSU coach Paul Mainieri turned to All-SEC freshman reliever Matty Ott.
Ott struck out Nick Ebert, forced Jeffery Jones to line out and struck out freshman Michael Roth, who was pinch-hitting for Andrew Crisp, one of USC’s career leaders in hits.
USC coach Ray Tanner decided to go with the left-handed-hitting Roth because Ott’s slider is so tough on right-handed hitters, citing the strikeout of Ebert.
“We had a pretty good situation going there, but we couldn’t do anything against Ott,” said Tanner, who also tipped his cap to Coleman.
“Coleman was very special. He was the pitcher of the year, and he showed you why. He can really pitch. It’s hard to muster any offense.”
LSU, which has claimed 14 regular-season SEC titles, including a share of the 2009 crown, and seven league tournament championships in its storied history, advances to play Georgia today. The Tigers (43-16), who are ranked No. 2 nationally, must beat the Bulldogs twice to make it to Sunday’s championship game.
No. 25 USC (38-21), which beat Alabama in the first game before dropping the next two, now awaits an NCAA tournament bid.
The Gamecocks have lost seven of their past eight games to the Tigers, who took two of three in Columbia to start the SEC schedule in March.
Coleman, a Mississippi native, loves getting the ball in big games.
“This is the best part,” he said. “This is why I came to LSU — to pitch in pressure situations.”
Said Mainieri, “Louis is just amazing.”
Tanner said the team will return home to practice and await word on a bid. He didn’t sound hopeful of hosting.
“I don’t know for sure. Who knows? We certainly didn’t make a strong case for ourselves (this week),” he said.
Merrifield isn’t concerned about the site.
“I really don’t care,” he said. “Wherever we are, we’ve got to take it to them.”
The Tigers broke on top in the sixth when Blake Dean singled to left off Belcher with one out. Micah Gibbs followed by ripping an RBI double. After a wild pitch moved Gibbs to third, Mikie Mahtook singled up the middle against a drawn-in infield to give LSU a 2-0 lead.
Fellow freshman left-hander Adam Westmoreland replaced Belcher to start the seventh. Belcher (4-4) allowed five hits and one walk while striking out four in his six innings of work.
LSU tacked on a pair of insurance runs — both unearned — off Westmoreland in the eighth to go ahead 4-0. One scored on a wild pitch and the other on a Sean Ochinko single following an error and two walks.
Coleman and Belcher matched outs for the first five innings.
“I’m a competitive guy,” Belcher said. “It definitely motivates me to make pitches and put some zeroes on the board.”
Mainieri was impressed.
“He’s improved. That little sucker throws the ball hard, and he makes it move a little bit,” he said.