Louisiana State rarely ventures away from home to play in NCAA baseball regionals.
The defending national champions' appearance at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Friday marked LSU's first regional-opening trip away from Baton Rouge since 1989.
But with their usual large and boisterous crowd of fans in tow, the once-struggling, now-streaking Tigers outlasted UC Irvine for an 11-10 victory in 11 innings.
Trey Watkins' two-out, bases-loaded double against Irvine closer Eric Pettis gave LSU a win that advanced the six-time College World Series champions into today's winner's bracket game against the winner of Friday night's game between UCLA and Kent State.
Irvine overcame a 7-3 deficit but failed to hold off LSU when the Anteaters had chances to clinch the victory in the ninth and 11th innings.
"There's a lot for us to be frustrated about," Irvine Coach Mike Gillespie said.
The Anteaters went ahead, 10-9, in the top of the 11th when catcher Francis Larson executed a perfect squeeze bunt to score Jeff Cusick from third.
"I thought we were going to be able to close it out," said Larson, who hit a two-run home run in the first and a solo homer in the eighth.
But LSU (41-20), which struggled mightily in the second half of the season before sweeping through the Southeastern Conference tournament, would not relent.
"The way we clawed back reminded me of teams I played on the last two years," said LSU catcher Micah Gibbs, who hit a three-run homer and drove in five runs.
Pettis retired the first two hitters, and then opened the door for LSU by walking Austin Nola. Alex Edward reached on an infield single and Leon Landry walked to load the bases and bring up Watkins, who had entered as a pinch-runner in the 10th.
Watkins, a JC transfer, had been sidelined for much of the latter part of the season because of a dislocated elbow. It did not look like a promising at-bat when Pettis quickly got ahead with two strikes.
"I didn't really know what to expect," Watkins said. "After the first few pitches I was thinking, 'Wow, I need to get the bat off my shoulder.' "
With the Anteaters outfield pulled in, Watkins connected and sent the ball to deep right-center field. The ball went over the outstretched glove of Irvine right fielder Sean Madigan, whose ill-advised dive for a ball in the bottom of the ninth inning had allowed LSU to tie the score.
"All in all it was bad karma," said Gillespie, whose team is 37-20.
LSU chased Irvine starter Daniel Bibona after four-plus innings, only the second time this season the two-time Big West Conference pitcher of the year failed to complete at least six. Bibona had not pitched in nearly a month because of an injured rib-cage muscle. He lacked his usual command and also made a costly throwing error in the second inning that eventually led to two runs.
LSU utilized seven pitchers. Ben Alsup (5-0) pitched the final two innings.