OMAHA, Neb. — The heart of the lineup showed out, Alex Lange turned in a classic outing, and the LSU baseball team survived to see another day.
Behind 7.1 innings of 1-run, 2-hit pitching from Lange and a combined 6 hits from Greg Deichmann, Zach Watson and Josh Smith, LSU defeated No. 1 Oregon State 3-1 Friday afternoon. The win extended LSU’s season and forces a win-or-go-home contest versus Oregon State on Saturday.
The winner will advance to the College World Series finals.
“It was obviously a great win for our team,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. “We get to play another day. Should be a tremendous ballgame tomorrow that we’re all looking forward to. And I have great respect for [Oregon State coach Pat Casey] and their program. They just do an amazing job. We look forward to a great competition tomorrow.”
The loss was Oregon State’s fifth of the season, snapping the Beavers’ 23-game winning streak. Lange and the Tigers avenged a Monday night drubbing at the hands of Oregon State, making up for that 13-1 loss four days prior.
Alex Lange won the ace-off
In a battle between two of college baseball’s preeminent starters, Lange looked slightly overmatched. After all, Oregon State’s Jake Thompson entered the game 14-0 with a 1.84 ERA.
But Lange was at his best Friday, with 8 strikeouts. The only run he allowed came in the third inning on a bases-loaded walk, which he followed with a strikeout.
“He just two-hit the No. 1 team in the country — that’s pretty newsworthy,” Mainieri said of Lange. “He’s got a talent, he’s got ability. But then he’s got all the intangibles, too. He’s got the poise. He’s got the composure.
“Nobody wants to compete more than he does. He’s able to put bad experiences behind him really quickly and he works really hard in preparation. Alex thrives in this environment. What a performance today. It was exactly what we needed.”
The 2 hits Lange surrendered were both 1-out doubles, one in the third inning and the other in the fourth. He clustered 3 of his 4 walks in his 33-pitch third, an inning where he also skirted past disaster. Oregon State leadoff hitter Steven Kwan appeared to lace a double that would’ve opened up the game with two runners on base, but the umpires ruled it foul and Oregon State did not ask for a review.
Lange settled in and found better command of home-plate umpire Mark Winters’ strike zone. The right-hander set down the last eight batters he faced, three by strikeout, and only allowed one ball to leave the infield. Lange threw 115 pitches in the game, 69 for strikes. He recorded seven outs in the air and six on the ground.
With his 8 strikeouts, Lange became the second pitcher in LSU baseball history to strike out 400 batters in a career, joining Tigers legend Scott Schultz. Lange has 406 career strikeouts, 3 behind Schultz’ LSU record of 409.
“Obviously it’s a pretty good feeling, but it’s just kind of surreal at this point,” Lange said. “I don’t think it’s set in. It probably will after the World Series is over, but it’s a pretty good feeling.”
Struck in the middle
The vaunted top third of LSU’s lineup, comprised of Kramer Robertson, Cole Freeman and Antoine Duplantis, went 0-for-12 with a walk Friday. The bottom third of Beau Jordan, Michael Papierski and Jake Slaughter went 1-for-9 with an RBI.
But the core in the middle, the trio of Deichmann, Watson and Smith, was electric. Watson went 3-for-3 with three singles, a walk and a run scored. Deichmann was 1-for-3 with a double, a walk and a run. And Smith brought the hammer, going 2-for-4 with a home run and 2 RBI.
Interestingly, LSU put up runs in the second inning Friday in the exact same fashion it did Wednesday when it beat Florida State. Deichmann led off the second with a double. Watson moved him to third with a single up the middle. And Smith drove in Deichmann and moved Watson to third with a single of his own.
“It’s happened a number of times,” Smith said. “Those guys always get hits. It’s awesome to bat behind them because you know that they’re going to be on base more times than not. So I just try to drive them in any chance I get.”
Smith’s home run came off Thompson on the first pitch of the seventh inning, drilled into the right-field stands underneath the scoreboard at TD Ameritrade Park. It was his fifth long ball of the season and LSU’s fourth of the College World Series. Three of those four home runs have come from freshmen.
Watson’s 3-hit day continued his white-hot College World Series. The LSU baseball team’s speedy center field is 8-for-16 in Omaha with a home run of his own. The Tigers had 7 hits Friday, making Watson’s multi-hit game all the more impressive.
“I’m running out of adjectives to describe Zach Watson. He’s getting better every day. He’s getting smarter. He’s getting more experienced. A calm, cool customer, man. He believes in himself and I believe in him. He’s going to be a great player for us. And he already is a great player for us.”
Watson opened the top of the ninth with a walk, which was followed by two-out walks from Papierski and Slaughter to load the bases. But Oregon State worked out of the jam, forcing Robertson to ground out and strand three.
“I didn’t think two runs were going to win the game, but ultimately I guess it did,” Mainieri said. “I thought we’d have to score about five to win today. Fortunately Lange and Hess were so terrific.”
The maniac returns
Freshman relief pitcher Zack Hess entered for Lange in the bottom of the eighth and showcased some filthy stuff. The young right-hander picked up the LSU baseball team with back-to-back strikeouts to end the eighth, hitting the mid-90s with his fastball and dropping off at 83 mph with his hammer curve.
Hess came back out for the ninth and struck out the first batter he faced on three straight fastballs. One batter later, Hess forced a lineout to left field on six fastballs. Six pitches and five fastballs later, Hess struck out Tyler Malone to end the game.
“Coming in at the end of the game, we were just going to stay aggressive with them and see how that worked until they could prove they could hit the heater,” Hess said. “We were just sticking with that and keeping everything away. It worked out pretty well.”
Hess has earned a save or win in all three of LSU’s College World Series wins this week and has yet to allow a hit.
What’s next for the LSU baseball team?
Saturday is everything. The LSU baseball team will return to action for a third matchup versus Oregon State, with the winner advancing to the College World Series finals. LSU will likely start sophomore Caleb Gilbert on the mound, while Oregon State has not announced a pitcher but can use either Drew Rasmussen or Bryce Fehmel.
“They have the all the confidence in the world in me,” Gilbert said of the expectations on him for Saturday. “They’ll help me out here and there with the little things, but ultimately they just want me to pitch my game and stay within myself.”
LSU will play Oregon State at 2 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Stay posted to SEC Country for LSU baseball updates from Omaha as they arise.