One more win. That’s all LSU needs and the dogpiling can begin in Omaha. Whatever happens, it will likely be dramatic, bizarre, classic. Why change the motif now in this Men’s College World Series?
And here’s the really worrisome part for the Florida Gators: Lately, just about whatever the Tigers need in Omaha, the Tigers get.
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In Saturday’s Game 1 of the championship series, they needed someone to walk onto the pitcher’s mound as the starter and act as if he owned the place. Someone not named Paul Skenes, that is. Ty Floyd struck out 17 Gators, matching the second most ever in a game in 76 years of the MCWS, and the most ever the championship finals. Then Riley Cooper came out of the bullpen to strike out three more for a nice, even 20.
When they needed a bat to do something about the 3-2 Florida lead Saturday before it was too late, Tommy White homered to left. When they needed a decisive swing to finally settle the game 4-3 in extra innings, Cade Beloso homered to right. There was bad news for Florida going out in every direction. “I knew,” Floyd said of Beloso, “he was made for this moment.”
When they needed to prove there would be no hangover from the 11-inning trial by fire with Wake Forest Thursday, they stayed tough for 11 more innings in a trial by fire with the Gators.
When they needed get through the deep waters of the loser’s bracket while facing one star opposing hurler after another — “It’s got to be one of the best pitching brackets in College World Series history,” coach Jay Johnson was saying — their own staff went into survive-and-advance mode. LSU has given up five runs in the past MCWS 40 innings.
When they needed an unsung pitching hero to keep them alive after a second-round defeat to Wake Forest, Nate Ackenhausen made his first start of the season and threw six shutout innings at Tennessee.
When they needed someone to come out of the bullpen and stabilize the rematch with Wake Forest, Griffin Herring provided 4.2 innings of scoreless relief.
When they needed the big stars to get them through that rubber match epic with the Demon Deacons Thursday, Skenes was other-worldly, and White homered to win it.
Whatever they’ve needed, they’ve gotten just enough. They stranded 17 baserunners against Florida Saturday — the most in a MCWS game in 15 years — and still won. “No one’s freaking out about it,” Beloso said of all those missed chances. “We’ve got to just keep playing the game and putting ourselves in those opportunities.”
Win again and LSU will have its seventh national championship, and first since 2009. In Baton Rouge, that feels like a very long time. “I don’t know what it is, but I know we’re meant for it,” Floyd said about the Tigers' ability to carry on. “I know we love it, we’re built for it, we’re mentally strong for it.”
Part of that comes from talent and experience. “You have to have two things to get here and win here,” Johnson said. “You have to have future Major League players. That’s clear. Nobody’s getting here anymore without future Major League players. And you have to have old players that really know what they’re doing.”
Part of it comes from passion. “I just love playing baseball, it’s as simple as that,” Beloso said. “You ask every guy on the team and they’ll give you the same answer. It’s nothing more than that.”
2023 NCAA baseball bracket: Men's College World Series scores, schedule in Omaha
LSU was hardly alone with such qualities in this MCWS and perhaps that explains what has been going in Omaha. Savvy, talented baseball teams came here to win, and gave way only stubbornly, making nearly every night a draining, demanding ordeal. Saturday was the eighth one-run game and the seventh won on a team’s last at-bat. The Tigers have now taken two of those in a row. All four of Florida’s MCWS games have been decided by one run.
The pitchers on both sides are giving opponents little chance to hit, or even breathe. There were 83 official at-bats for the two teams Saturday night, and 36 of them ended in a strikeout. Eleven different Florida hitters struck out at least once, including every starter. The two teams combined to go 1-for-20 with runners in scoring position and 6-for-36 with men on baseball.
It can get so tense, that even the participants find it difficult to watch, Beloso, the designated hitter, didn’t even see the last Florida outs that Riley was able to get in the 11th inning Saturday to close. Two good reasons. One, he had to go find the bathroom. And two, he wasn’t sure he wanted to watch, anyway. “I was like, I’m going to stay back here. When you have no control over something, you want something to happen so bad, you tend to get a little nervous. Not to say I don’t trust Riley because he’s the man and he does his deal. But I was just a little nervous because anything can happen in baseball.”
So we’ve seen for more than a week. There seemed only thing for the participants to think after another long, pressurized night in Charles Schwab Field, and Game 2 on Sunday.
“You can throw out all the talent and throw out everything else,” Florida catcher BT Riopelle said. “All that matters now is if you execute and make the pitch when it matters, or the at-bat when it matters or the defensive player when it matters.
“We have to go out tomorrow and attack and bring the game to them, and that’s all we can do.”
“On to tomorrow,” LSU's Johnson said.
One more win for his Tigers. Or is it Florida’s turn to do something special?