OMAHA, Neb. — The LSU baseball team is in an all-too-familiar position.
After dropping Game 1 of the College World Series finals to Florida, 4-3, Monday night, LSU is one loss away from elimination. That means to capture the national championship, the Tigers will have to win games on consecutive days against their SEC rivals, the Gators — one of the most talented teams in the country.
But this isn’t new for LSU. Paul Mainieri’s bunch had to do the same thing just four days ago when it was tasked with beating No. 1 Oregon State twice in two days. And that worked out. So Mainieri and LSU’s players aren’t too nervous about having to do it again.
“[Mainieri] told us how we’ve been in this situation before,” senior closer Hunter Newman said. “There’s no new pressure for us. It’s nothing new.”
Per LSU baseball tradition, once the clock struck midnight and Monday turned to Tuesday, Game 1 was behind LSU. No more sulking. No more wallowing. Just preparation. And, thanks to a quirk in scheduling, LSU has the opportunity to prepare behind the winningest pitcher in school history.
Saturday comes before Sunday
If there’s one inequity in the College World Series, it’s that four teams begin on Saturday and four teams begin on Sunday. Florida was a Sunday team. LSU was a Saturday team. And because of that, LSU is set up to use its best arms in Game 2 and 3 of this series, while Florida is not.
The Tigers will call upon Jared Poché (12-3, 3.33 ERA) to face Florida Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). And all Poché has done in his four years in Baton Rouge is become the winningest pitcher in school history with 39. Poché has pitched in big games his entire career, and while he doesn’t have the same track record as teammate Alex Lange, Poché is as calm and composed of a pitcher as you’ll find.
That’s why his teammates believe.
“It’s Jared Poché,” LSU right fielder Greg Deichmann said. “Winningest pitcher in LSU history. We have all the confidence in the world in him that he’s going to go out and do his thing.”
Opposite Poché, Florida will start freshman Tyler Dyson, a flame-thrower who can top out at 97 or 98 mph on the radar gun and sweeps batters away with an 87 mph slider. But while Tuesday will be just the second start of Dyson’s college career, it’ll be the third College World Series start for Poché. LSU has a distinct advantage in experience Tuesday night, and it’s one that should be able to carry into Wednesday.
LSU is set up for a run. A win Tuesday would put Lange into action Wednesday on four days of rest. Florida’s ace, Alex Faedo, would pitch Wednesday on three days of rest. That means an LSU win Tuesday would force Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan to choose between his ace on short rest or a younger pitcher, Jackson Kowar, on full rest — and a 4.15 ERA.
“We’re confident,” Mainieri explained, highlighting his pitching depth. “We still have Jared Poché and Alex Lange available. Zack Hess has an extra day’s rest. He should be fine and ready to go. And I think Caleb Gilbert could even give us something out of the bullpen. He came to me today and said, ‘I feel great if you need me. I’m ready to give you something.'”
Pitching depth saved LSU when it was faced with three elimination games last week. Poché, Lange and Gilbert all threw gems in their starts, and Hess closed out each win with his overpowering stuff. Now LSU will rely again on that cluster of arms, starting with Poché. A long, efficient, successful outing from Poché Tuesday very well could set up a Game 3.
And that’s all Mainieri can ask for.
“We’re down but we’re not out,” Mainieri said. “Our kids are going to fight right until the very end. I feel still very confident in our ability to come from behind in this thing. We can’t think about winning two games. We’ve just got to go out there and try to win the game. And if we’re fortunate enough to win the game, we’ll try to go out and win one more.”