In the preview for this game, I said Alex Lange would have to be damn near perfect for LSU to have a shot at winning this game.
LSU (51-18) handed Oregon State their fifth loss of the season behind Lange and Zack Hess’ destruction of the Oregon State lineup to a tune of 3-1 to drop the Beavers to 56-5.
“I felt confident about Alex's ability to go out there today and pitch a gem,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “He usually does that. After less than stellar performance, Alex never loses confidence. He just works and gets prepared and turns the page very quickly. This is why I think he's going to be an outstanding professional pitcher. He's got a short memory when things don't go well and then he goes out there the next game and just pitches his heart out. He was obviously the key to the ballgame.”
LSU opened the scoring in the second inning when Greg Deichmann doubled to right field followed by a single from Zach Watson, the same combination that put LSU on the board against Florida State on Wednesday. That pattern continued with a Josh Smith single to score Deichmann before being broken by a Papierski flyout to dead center. Papierski’s flyout was deep enough to move Watson to third, where he would score on a safety squeeze from Beau Jordan to make it 2-0 LSU after two.
Lange would cruise until the bottom of the third when he allowed a one out double. When he switched to throwing from the stretch he had difficulty finding the zone, giving up three walks to bring in a run for Oregon State. Some controversy surrounded Steven Kwan’s at-bat where he hit what seemed to be a double off of the foul line but the call was ruled foul and was not reviewed, costing Oregon State two possible runs.
“Off the bat I thought he like fouled it off just like to the left of the dugout, but I must have just seen it wrong,” Lange said. “I'm looking and talking to it, kind of like a golfer talks to a ball. I was like ‘Get foul, get foul’. Then they called it foul. I thought it was foul. But coming back and what I heard in the dugout, it might have been fair. So I'm just glad they called a foul. Obviously that's a pretty big situation.”
After that, the game entered a stalemate between Lange and Jake Thompson. Neither side would allow anything other than an errant walk or a lone single in an inning after Thompson stranded two in the top of the fourth inning.
And then on the first pitch of the seventh inning, Josh Smith broke the silence by laying into a fastball and taking it deep into right field. Momentum was starting to build slowly in Oregon State’s favor, but with one swing of the bat Smith broke out of the headlock Jake Thompson had the Tigers in and gave life to the LSU dugout and crowd. Thompson would give way to Max Engelbrekt later in the inning, and Oregon State would get out of the inning without any further damage.
The two run lead gave Alex Lange more room to breath on the mound, but he wouldn’t need it. Between the fifth and his pull in the eighth inning, Lange retired eight straight Beavers. Lange was pulled in favor of Zack Hess to close after 7.1 innings where he allowed only one run (earned) on two hits while walking four and striking out eight. Combined with Hess, he helped hold spots one through five in the Oregon State lineup hitless.
Again, that’s the number one team in the country’s one through five going a combined 0-17 on the day. He. Dominated.
In order for LSU to win this game Lange needed to be the boss he always could be but seldom was this season, but this was the definitive Alex Lange. When his team needed him the most, he saddled up and completely shutdown the best team in the nation.
Oh and by the way, Zack Hess relieved him and he was publishing obscene and indecent content live on national broadcast television. Hess struck out four batters in 1.2 innings pitched and for the first time allowed a ball in play in Omaha, a lazy fly ball caught by Antoine Duplantis.
“The players call him ‘Psycho,’” Mainieri said, referring to Hess. “That doesn't define who he is. He's a very level-headed man, very intelligent. You bring him into the mound in a big situation, millions watching on television and 25,000 in the stadium. He's just a very, very cool customer. But then he gets himself amped up and cuts it loose and he's throwing fastballs in the mid to high 80s -- mid to high 90s, excuse me. Everyone thinks he's just out of control but he's not. He has good command. He's got a very good breaking ball he commands as well.”
“Whatever my team needs me to do, I'm fully ready to meet the challenge,” Hess said cooly.
The rubber game between Oregon State and LSU will be Saturday,
but the start time is completely dependent upon the winner of the TCU-Florida game in the other side of the bracket. If Florida wins, the game will be at 7:00. If TCU wins, the game will be at 2:00, same as today. Winner of tomorrow’s game will advance to the College World Series final, the loser will pack their bags and go home.
The Tigers are one win away from playing directly for the National Championship. Tomorrow will decide if they get that shot or not.