So the LSU Tigers found themselves behind the 8-ball following their embarrassing 13-1 loss to #1 ranked Oregon State last Monday. Not only would they have to go thru the losers bracket, but they would have to do it down a pitcher with the tightness returning to freshman Eric Walker’s right forearm.
Taking it as whole was too daunting of a task. Everyone immediately jumped to Saturday. Who pitches then? But going all cliche, ‘taking it one game at a time’, made it feasible just to get to Saturday, for the chance to advance to the College World Series finals. Lutcher native Jared Poché would get another chance to become LSU’s all-time winningest pitcher and Cubs 1st Round Pick, Alex Lange could show, once again, he deserved all of the accolades. Worry about Saturday, come Saturday.
What did Poché do? Limited Florida State to just two runs, one earned over his first eight innings before allowing a pair of solo home runs and giving way to Zach Hess to finish it up in the ninth. Sure Poché had the benefit of a five-run second inning, (thanks Jake Slaughter), but he was given an early lead in the Super Regional and couldn’t hold it. Tigers took down the Seminoles 7-4. One down, two to go.
Lange would be next and while the hope was for him to pitch deep in the game against Oregon State, Lange’s recent struggles came in the first inning, surrendering runs in each of his last three starts. What did Lange do? One-upped Poché, by giving up just one run (in the 5th) on a bases loaded walk, in 7.1 innings. Hess locked it down again for a 3-1 Tigers win. Two down, one to go.
Saturday was always going to be the question mark. Heading into the CWS, I thought LSU had a pitching advantage with the availability and effectiveness of Caleb Gilbert. He was sensational in relief of Poché against Mississippi St. in the Super Regional. At one point, retiring 15 in a row and 17 of the last 18 batters he faced, securing LSU’s trip to Omaha, That advantage took a serious blow when Walker went down and Gilbert threw 68 pitches in relief on Monday. Nonetheless, it was Gilbert on the mound for the biggest game of the year for LSU.
What did Gilbert do? As far as I’m concerned, he one-upped Lange and Poché (with some help from Papierski & Jordan). The freshman locked down the #1 Beavers, throwing what appeared to be a relatively easy seven shutout innings, before giving up a home run in the 8th and once again, Hess wrapping things up in the Tigers 6-1 win, to move on to the finals. Three down, on to the Finals.
Lets recap and total. In three must win games, Poché, Lange and Gilbert combined for 22.2 IP, allowing 6 runs, (5 earned), including beating Oregon State twice in two days. A team that had lost only four times all season.
Whatever happens against the Florida Gators for the College World Series title, the last three starts will go down in LSU Tigers baseball lore.