OMAHA, Neb. — Forget the long odds. Forget the pitching injuries and the hitting slumps. The LSU baseball team has eliminated the No. 1 team in the country and moved on to the final round of the 2017 College World Series.
Behind a two-home run, four-RBI day from catcher Michael Papierski and 7.1 one-run innings from starter Caleb Gilbert, LSU defeated Oregon State 6-1 Saturday. The win moved LSU into the best-of-three College World Series championship series, beginning Monday versus either Florida or TCU.
Prior to Friday, Oregon State had only lost four times in 60 games. LSU defeated the Beavers on back-to-back days, holding them to five hits and two runs in 18 innings. The two wins improved LSU to 52-18 on the season. Oregon State’s season ends at 56-6.
“To lose four games the entire season and we beat them two days in a row, it’s hard to predict those things to happen,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. “But that’s why you have to play the games, and our kids embraced the challenge. We’ve got a lot of pride in our program. And they rose to the occasion, and consequently we get to play somebody in the national championship series.”
Papierski has been the definition of clutch this postseason, driving in the winning run in both of LSU’s Super Regional victories and smacking a home run in the Tigers’ first College World Series victory. But the junior catcher cranked that into a new gear Saturday.
With two outs in the bottom of a scoreless third inning, Papierski came to the plate with runners on second and third. Third baseman Josh Smith reached on a two-out walk, which was followed by a Beau Jordan double. After falling behind 0-1, Papierski watched three straight balls, working into a favorable 3-1 count.
Then Papierski got a pitch he could hit. Batting left-handed, the switch hitting catcher launched a Bryce Fehmel pitch into right field, giving LSU a 3-0 lead.
“Josh had a huge walk that inning and then Beau had a good two-out double and I put a good swing on [the pitch],” Papierski said. “A bunch of guys today got in 3-1, 2-0, 0-0 counts and put swings on it today.”
Two innings later, Papierski stepped in to face Oregon State left-hander Brandon Eisert. Since Eisert is left-handed, Papierski flipped to the right side of the plate. The change didn’t bother him. Papierski lifted the third pitch he saw over the left field fence, extending LSU’s lead to 5-0.
Lefty or Righty it doesn’t matter…
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 24, 2017
With his two blasts, Papierski became the first player in TD Ameritrade Park history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game and the first LSU baseball player to do so in any game since Todd Linden in 2001.
Give it up for Gilbert
Papierski might’ve supplied the fireworks, but Gilbert shepherded the LSU baseball team to victory.
Gilbert threw 7.1 innings of one-run, allowing two hit and one walk with seven strikeouts, six of which looking. Other than the fourth inning, when Gilbert walked Trevor Larnach and allowed a single to KJ Harrison in back-to-back plate appearances, Gilbert went 3-up, 3-down in every inning he threw.
“The goal was just putting up a zero every inning,” Gilbert said. “Coach comes back to me every inning and says ‘Go out and give me one more.’ He kept on saying that all the way. I was just really focusing on getting the leadoff hitter out and filling up the zone.”
The sophomore right-hander, making only his fifth start of the season, retired the first 11 batters he faced with five strikeouts. After the walk and the single, Gilbert recovered by retiring the next 11 batters he faced, six of which on groundouts to infielders.
Cole Freeman, Kramer Robertson and Josh Smith were excellent behind Gilbert defensively, combining to throw out eight Beavers runners. Freeman in particular made his presence felt, making three sliding stops and successfully throwing out the runner every time.
Oregon State’s first hit came on an infield single, and Robertson even made a memorable play on that. Harrison’s single very easily could’ve squeaked through the infield and potentially moved Larnach to third, but Robertson slid and stopped the ball, keeping it in the infield and the runners at first and second.
“That’s the biggest thing with a team like that: You don’t want to give them anything extra,” Freeman said. “If you can make a play, you want to make the play. They’re one big hit away from a big inning. They work counts. They don’t give you a lot of things. So that was the biggest thing, is we had to make plays today, even some extraordinary plays.”
Gilbert departed in the eighth inning after allowing a solo home run to third baseman Michael Gretler. Before Saturday, Gilbert had never thrown six innings in a college game, let alone into the eighth.
Robertson played just as well offensively as he did defensively. After starting the College World Series 1-for-18, Robertson went 3-for-3 with a walk and a run scored Saturday. Robertson came around to score in the third, after he drew a leadoff walk, off an Antoine Duplantis single.
But Robertson wasn’t the only underperforming player who broke out Saturday. After serving primarily as a sacrifice bunter in the first four games of the College World Series, designated hitter Beau Jordan slugged his way into the hit column. Jordan’s first at-bat was his double in the second inning that set up Papierski’s three-run shot.
⚡️ POWER SURGE!! ⚡️
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 24, 2017
Then Jordan smacked a solo shot of his own in the sixth inning, driving a pitch into the left-field bullpen and securing the Tigers an insurance run.
“I would say definitely the double,” Jordan said when he was asked which hit felt better. “Being early in the game and just Pap following it up with a big home run, just got — got things going. And once things started getting going, we didn’t stop.”
As he has in all of the LSU baseball team’s College World Series wins, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri called upon freshman Zack Hess to close out the game. Hess entered for Gilbert with one out in the eighth inning and got catcher Adley Rutschman to line out to centerfield before striking out shortstop Cadyn Grenier with a breaking ball.
The top three hitters in the Oregon State lineup were due up to start the ninth. Steven Kwan opened the frame with a single past Freeman, marking the first hit Hess allowed in the College World Series. Nick Madrigal followed that with a walk, putting two men on with no one out.
Hess followed the two base runners by striking out Larnach looking and forcing Harrison to foul out to first base. With two outs, Hess faced Jack Anderson, forcing him to ground into a fielder’s choice at second base to end the game.
What’s next for the LSU baseball team?
LSU has secured its position as one of the final two teams alive in the College World Series. The Tigers will begin a three-game series for the 2017 national championship Monday, versus either Florida or TCU. LSU has faced both of those teams in 2017, going 1-2 against Florida and 0-1 versus TCU.
Action will begin Monday at 6 p.m. CT. Every game of the final series will be broadcast nationally on ESPN and available for stream through WatchESPN. Stay posted to SEC Country throughout the week for live updates from Omaha.