OMAHA, Neb.— Now, if only the coaches from LSU and Wake Forest write down the names of two certain pitchers on their lineup cards for Thursday night. Please.
Imagine the buzz. LSU’s Paul Skenes, with his fastball making the radar gun smoke as he strikes out batters in waves. Wake Forest’s Rhett Lowder with his perfect 15-0 record. The pitcher who has rarely been touched, against the pitcher who hasn’t been beaten.
LSU vs. Wake Forest at the Men’s College World Series was already compelling for several reasons.
Winner to the championship finals, loser to the airport.
LSU was ranked No. 1 much of the season. Then Wake Forest was. They've met here twice already and split.
LSU would join Florida in an all-SEC finals. Wake Forest would show the world that other leagues get to play in that, too.
Wake Forest is trying to get to the finals for the first time in 68 years. LSU has been there seven times since 1991.
LSU has the momentum from beating the Demon Deacons 5-2 Wednesday night to force the issue. “Everybody knows the scenario,” said Cade Beloso, who sent a home run toward downtown Omaha for the Tigers in the game. “But you don’t have to put any more pressure on yourself. Just go out there and have fun.”
Wake Forest has to get over the disappointment of Wednesday’s lost opportunity. The Demon Deacons had not taken a defeat or faced elimination in the tournament but now this will have to be done the hard way. “We’ve responded to adversity all year,” coach Tom Walter said Wednesday night. “Tomorrow will be no different.”
Now, if only . . .
Is LSU’s Skenes judged to be rested enough for this after four days? Is Wake Forest’s Lowder? That would be something. The nation’s two most renowned starting pitchers this season, eyeball-to-eyeball. Or more to the point, right arm-to-right arm.
They are both 21, born 12 weeks apart in 2002 on opposite coasts. Skenes is the native Californian, Lowder is from North Carolina.
Skenes leads the nation in strikeouts with 200. Lowder is sixth with 137.
Skenes is second in the country in earned run average at 1.81. Lowder is fifth at 1.99.
Lowder leads the nation in wins with his 15-0. Skenes is tied for second at 12-2.
Skenes’ strikeout-walk ratio is 200-19. Lowder’s is 137-22.
Skenes had a 4,76 grade point average in high school. Lowder was president of his high school chapter of the National Art Honor Society.
Skenes is 6-6, Lowder 6-2.
Skenes went 7.2 innings against Tennessee last Saturday, striking out 12 and hitting 100 miles-an-hour 46 times. Lowder did not leave vapor trails like that in his Saturday game against Stanford, but he pitched into the sixth and allowed only two runs.
Neither coach would say for certain Wednesday night the plan for the next day, but if both pitchers go to the mound, consider the challenge on each side.
LSU would be in a must-win situation against a pitcher who has never lost a game this year. “We’re not going to make it anything bigger than it is,” Beloso said. “It’s the same game we’ve been playing since February.”
Wake Forest would have to relight its suddenly dormant offense against a flamethrower who has been the talk of the sport with his velocity and variety of pitches. The Demon Deacons lineup that came storming into the MCWS averaging 15 runs an outing in the NCAA tournament has scored only eight times in three games and is hitting .198. They have gone homerless in consecutive games for the first time in more than two months. Wednesday was the first time in 111 games they did not have an extra-base hit. Nick Kurtz, who arrived in Omaha with a .370 batting average, 24 home runs and 69 RBI, is 0-for-9 here with five strikeouts. Justin Johnson, whose numbers were .341-16-76, is 0-for-12 with five strikeouts.
“If we’re going to make a run at this title,” Walter said, “we’re going to need those two guys to get rolling.”
They might have to do it against a bunch of pitches coming in at 101.
Could be a High Noon duel with fastballs Thursday night. Omaha positively dreams of moments like this.