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LSU in the NCAA Tournament - 1986
LSU began the season ranked #17 in the AP poll. Coach Skip Bertman was optimistic. "We did a good job in recruiting and feel like we've replaced some people. We are young (four seniors), but we honestly feel that the sophomores and juniors we have recruited in the past year or two are ready to perform and become stars in the SEC."
The Tigers, along with Florida and Alabama, were considered the main contenders for the SEC title. Skip laid out the goals. "We want to win the SEC first. Then we want to go to an NCAA regional and win that, and then go to Omaha. That's it. Once you can get there, you've made it. The next step in our program is to win the pressurized tournament."
The main challenge was replacing pitchers Eric Hetzel, Robbie Smith, and Clay Parker, who com­bined for 24 victories in '85. The most promising new hitter was community college transfer Jim Bow­ie, who joined returning RF Joey Belle as the anchors in the middle of the lineup. The leaders of the deep pitching staff were southpaws Mark Guthrie and Gregg Patterson and righties Barry Manuel and Stan Loewer. Bertman hoped to set an attendance record in Alex Box Stadium, which was en­larged from 3,200 to 5,800 capacity.
"Albert Belle" would hit 381 home runs in an 11-year MLB career.

L-R: Skip Bertman, Mark Guthrie, Barry Manuel
To say the Tigers got off to a sensational start would be an understatement. LSU won 20 of their first 21 games and 27 of their first 29. Included were three-game sweeps of SEC foes Florida, Ken­tucky, and Tennessee. The Tigers won every one of their nine conference series to finish first with a 22-5 record. They won three straight to also take the SEC tournament in Baton Rouge.
With 11 days before the start of the NCAA Regionals, the #1-ranked Tigers played four additional games. They lost two of three to Alabama. Then they played a game at #2 Florida State that was televised on ESPN. The Seminoles won 6-4. That brought the Tigers' record to 50-12 heading into the NCAA tournament.
LSU hosted a regional for the first time, one of the eight six-team groupings across the country. The top-seeded Tigers had a surprisingly tough time with #6 seed Jackson State in the opener. Wanting to save his top hurler for the second game, Bertman started Guthrie, who had worked three innings three days earlier against FSU. Guthrie didn't last three innings this time. The JSU Tigers sent Mark to the showers with a five-run third to take a 6-1 lead.
But LSU bounced back with a seven-run fourth. DH Eric Johnson and LF Rob Hartwig sin­gled with one out. 2B Burke Broussard drew a walk from JSU ace Earl Sanders to load he bases. CF Mike Papajohn smacked a hot grounder that could have started a double play. But the shortstop couldn't handle it and two runs scored. After two outs, Belle crushed a 1-1 pitch for his 17th homer of the season to tie the score. 1B Jim Bowie slapped a single, and 3B Jeff Yurtin was hit by a pitch. C Rob Leary hit a pop up to shallow center that dropped among four fielders to score two more runs.

L-R: Gregg Patterson, Joey Belle, Burke Broussard
LSU added four more in the sixth to make it 12 runs off Sanders with only five earned. But JSU re­sponded with five in their half of the 6th. With one run in and the bases loaded, Barry Manuel replaced Dan Kite and immediately gave up a grand slam to Sanders, who continued in the game as the DH. That narrowed the lead to 12-11. But Manuel shut out JSU the rest of the way. In the meantime, LSU added two more to win 14-11.
LSU's next opponent was Oklahoma, 44-19 after beating Eastern Kentucky by the football score of 21-14 as the Colonels scored nine in the ninth.
Both teams scored in the first. After the Sooners got one, the Tigers got two when Belle walked, Bowie doubled him home, and 3B Jeff Yurtin singled to put runners on first and third. A delayed dou­ble steal brought in Bowie. But OU DH Kevin Burdick nailed a Stan Loewer fastball for a two-run homer in the top of the third. But LF Rob Hartwig did Kevin one better, cracking a three-run jack in the fourth to put LSU ahead for good, 5-3. Singles by Belle and Yurtin doubled LSU's lead in the fifth. After OU narrowed the gap to 7-5 in the top of the seventh, the Tigers got an insurance run in the bottom of the inning. Papajohn's walked, stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice, and scored on Belle's single. Loewer went all the way in the 8-5 triumph.
LSU faced the other undefeated team, Louisiana Tech, the next morning in what Bertman called the "marble game" the next day. The winner would get the rest of the day off and have to be beaten twice to be eliminated. The loser would play later the same day with no margin for error.
The Bulldogs, who had scored 21 runs on 24 hits in their victories over Tulane and Jackson State, were limited to six hits by Gregg Patterson, Dan Kite, and Barry Manuel as the Tigers won 7-4. LSU forged a 6-0 lead after two innings. Bowie's run-scoring double, one of Jim's three hits, knocked out Tech starter Jimmy Faircloth, and Yurtin greeted reliever Don Clinton with a run-scoring single. But the Bulldogs cut the lead in half with three in the fifth, knocking out Patterson. LSU added a run in the bottom of the inning. Kite pitched scoreless ball until an unearned run in the ninth brought in Manuel, who got the last two outs for his eighth save.
Tulane eliminated Oklahoma 14-5 and then beat Tech 9-4 to earn the right to play LSU at 2 PM Sunday. The Green Wave (49-14) would have to beat the Tigers twice to advance to Omaha.
A school record crowd of 5,139 watched the tense battle that was tied in the top of the 8th when rain postponed the finish of the game to the next day. The Tigers scored a run in the top of the first on Belle's homer over the RCF fence, but the Green Wave countered with two in the bottom of the inning off starter Mark Guthrie. The Greenies extended their lead to 3-1 in the third before each team scored three in the fourth, Belle's second roundtripper accounting for two of LSU's tallies after the previous batter, SS Jeff Reboulet, doubled. Jim Bowie and Jeff Yurtin made it four hits in a row with singles before Craig Faulkner's sacrifice fly drove home Bowie. Tulane knocked out Guthrie in their half of the inning to bring on Gregg Patterson, who pitched scoreless ball for 3 2/3 innings. The 6-6 tie con­tinued until thunderstorms stopped play in the top of the 8th.
The game was scheduled to resume at 1 PM the next day, but more rain delayed the start, and a helicopter was used to help dry the saturated playing surface. Finally, 3,000 fans saw neither team score in the eighth although Tulane had two men on against Barry Manuel. In the ninth, Rob Hart­wig's smash off P Tommy Little's glove into shallow center field was ruled an error. Sammy Amarena relieved and was greeted by Hartwig stealing second - his 28th success in 33 tries. Broussard then moved the runner to third with a groundout to second. Tulane got a big out when PH Eric Johnson had a sharp grounder to first. But Reboulet hit a bounder down the third base line and caught a charging Tookie Spann on the shoulder, allowing Reboulet to beat the throw to first by a step as the go-ahead run scored. Manuel got the first two batters out before 3B Yurtin made an error. When the next hitter drilled a single to right, Stan Loewer replaced Manuel and earned his fourth save on a ground out to seal LSU's first trip to Omaha.
Belle was named the regional's MVP. The sophomore from Shreveport hit .429 with three homers and nine RBI. Bowie, Yurtin,and Manuel also made the all-tournament team.
To be continued ...

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