LSU (51-18) advanced to the College World Series Final after defeating Oregon State (56-6) for the second time in as many days.
Caleb Gilbert absolutely handcuffed the Oregon State lineup and the LSU bats blasted the Beavers starting pitching, hitting three home runs in the graveyard that is TD Ameritrade in a 6-1 victory for the Tigers.
“I wish I could tell you that I went to bed last night and dreamt that Caleb Gilbert would give us seven shutout innings of one hit ball, and that Pap was going to launch one out each side of the plate and Beau was going to tomahawk a 97-mile-an-hour fastball into the stands,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “But I'd be lying if I told you that.”
Gilbert’s superhero effort ended after 7.1 innings where he allowed one single run on a solo home run and one other hit while striking out seven and allowing a single walk. He kept the lethal trio of Steven Kwan, Nick Madrigal, and Trevor Larnach hitless and four other batters in the Oregon State lineup hitless.
“It's a surreal feeling to be able to pitch your team when the back's against the wall elimination game into the College World Series final,” Gilbert said. “But I just had all the faith in the world in my teammates and my coaching staff and just really went out there and pitched my game, tried to attack early with a heater and get ahead and just trust my defense behind me.”
Josh Smith drew a two out walk in the bottom of the second and Beau Jordan followed it with a double before Michael Papierski put LSU on the board with a three run blast to right field. It didn’t feel like it at the time, but that would be all the runs that LSU would need to clinch their appearance in the College World Series finals.
“Being early in the game and just Pap following it up with a big home run, it just got things going,” Jordan said. “And once things started getting going, we didn't stop.”
LSU added insurance to their lead in the third inning after Kramer Robertson drew a walk and moved into scoring position after a hit and run from Cole Freeman. That was enough to chase Oregon State pitcher Bryce Fehmel. Brandon Eisert then came in for the prematurely departed Fehmel, but he was pulled shortly after Michael Papierski homered to left field for his second home run in the game. It was the first time that a player had homered from both sides of the plate in the same game in the 320 college game history of TD Ameritrade Park and it put LSU in a commanding 5-0 lead over the Beavers.
After struggling for LSU’s previous four games, Robertson finally had a breakout game in Omaha, going three for three on the day with a walk and run scored. Robertson had been tagging balls hard throughout the College World Series, but his BABIP luck had been working against him up until today.
“This is the difference of Kramer Robertson today and maybe three or four years ago,” Mainieri said. “He's so much more mature. That he knows that's part of the game. In the old days he would have hit a ball hard right at somebody and it would have wrecked him for the rest of the game.”
“But he understands that he, much like Papierski did earlier in the year when he wasn't hitting he was playing a critical position defensively, Kramer still played great defense for us.”
“I like his blond hair. It definitely makes everyone laugh, and he gets a lot of attention for that blond hair that he has now. I'm pretty sure he'll look better with short hair,” Michael Papierski said about Kramer. “But, he's a great baseball player. He plays hard. Works hard. Keeps his mouth shut for the most part.”
Oregon State replaced Eisert with Drew Rasmussen, the pitcher who was supposed to start today’s game before being a late scratch. Rasmussen was a first round draft pick in this year’s MLB draft despite the fact that he was out until April recovering from Tommy John surgery. Since then he has been incredible for Oregon State, holding a sub-one ERA in 22 innings pitched through the back end of the season and the NCAA tournament.
“Less an hour before the game we were told they were pitching the other kid,” Mainieri said. “...It kind of angered our players, to be honest with you. They thought they were trying to pull something on us. And our players were bound and determined to take advantage of who they did pitch.”
It didn’t matter who was on the mound, the result was the same. Beau Jordan put LSU a touchdown ahead of the Beavers with a solo shot to right field in the bottom of the second. Rasmussen would finish the game strong, only allowing the home run and two other hits in 4.1 innings, but at that point the damage was done. Not only was LSU shutting down Oregon State bats, but they were taking the vaunted Beavers pitching staff deep, which nobody had LSU doing at all.
Oregon State made it interesting in the eighth inning when Gilbert allowed a solo home run from Cadyn Grenier to put the Beavers on the board. Despite his performance up to that point and the fact that LSU had a five run lead late, Mainieri wasted no time in pulling Gilbert and made the move to newly minted closer Zack Hess.
Hess showed some signs of fatigue from pitching his third game this week and lost control a little in the ninth after allowing a single and a walk in the ninth inning. After a meeting with pitching coach Alan Dunn, Hess was able to scrape the bottom of the barrel and close out Oregon State.
LSU will face the winner of tonight’s game between TCU and Florida in game one of the CWS Finals on Monday night at 7:00 p.m. The entirety of the final will be broadcast on ESPN and will be in a best of three format, ala Super Regionals.