OMAHA, Neb. — However Oregon State coach Pat Casey intended it, LSU shortstop Kramer Robertson didn’t take it that way.
Less than an hour before first pitch Saturday afternoon, Casey announced he’d be starting sophomore right-hander Bryce Fehmel. As late as the announcement came, it was a seemingly innocuous one. Every team has to start a pitcher, after all.
But Casey had led the media, and LSU, to believe that he’d be starting a different sophomore right-hander: hard-throwing first-round pick Drew Rasmussen. LSU spent the previous night and the better part of the morning preparing for Rasmussen’s fastball and game planning for how to best approach it.
Then, after batting practice, they saw Bryce Fehmel’s name on the scorecard. That’s soft-throwing precision pitcher Bryce Fehmel, the same Bryce Fehmel who threw eight innings of two-hit ball against LSU five days before.
Robertson didn’t take kindly to this development.
“We took it personal,” Robertson said. “Almost like we took it as a compliment. Like, ‘OK, you’re going to hide who you’re going to pitch? You’re going to lie about it?’ Whatever. That means, I don’t want to say you’re scared, but that means you’re worried about us. You’re worried about the offense and you don’t want the offense to prepare.”
Casey explained his decision away by saying he woke up Saturday and realized Fehmel was “better against them early” and Rasmussen was of higher value out of the bullpen. And if that was the case, there’s no reason to harbor ill will against Casey for doing what he thought was best for his team.
But LSU coach Paul Mainieri used the last-minute swap as motivation for his offense. After he saw the switch, Mainieri issued a challenge to his players: Don’t let Casey’s maneuvering work.
“We took it as kind of a not really cool thing to do,” Mainieri said. “You don’t see that happen very often. It kind of made our players more determined than they were maybe a few minutes earlier. If that’s what they thought they needed to do, to trick us or whatever, we were just bound and determined not to let it work.”
Call it determination or call it skill, but LSU certainly didn’t let it work. Unlike his first start versus LSU, Fehmel got hit, allowing four runs on four hits and two walks in 2.1 innings. LSU’s batters rose to Mainieri’s challenge.
And they also avenged what Fehmel was able to do to them a week prior.
“We were excited when we heard he was pitching,” Robertson said. “We wanted another shot at him because he dominated us the first time. We took it personally.”
Second baseman Cole Freeman wasn’t as quick to criticize. He said he doesn’t think LSU would ever pull a move like that, but he respected the decisions of a coach who led his team to a 56-6 season. Still, Freeman wasn’t bothered by having to abandon a scouting report less than an hour before the game.
Neither was designated hitter Beau Jordan, who said the decision “didn’t faze” the Tigers. If anything, it was a bit of a relief. Rasmussen did eventually come in for Oregon State and threw 4.1 innings of one-run ball. If he had started and pitched that way, LSU might’ve had a tougher go.
“I’m kind of happy they didn’t start Rasmussen,” Mainieri said. “That kid has a really great arm. He’s more like what we’re used to facing in the SEC every game.”
Stay posted to SEC Country over the next week for updates from Omaha on the LSU baseball team and its quest for a national title.