Although LSU beat out Wake Forest for the golden ticket to advance to the College World Series finals, the biggest winner of this game was college baseball itself.
The game between LSU and Wake Forest checked all the boxes. It had the two best teams in the country. The field was littered with talent all over the field. The two best pitchers in all of college baseball, LSU pitcher Paul Skenes and Wake Forest pitcher Rhett Lowder, had a pitching duel for the ages. The most important thing about a classic game is that it needs drama, and LSU’s All-American third baseman Tommy White did just that when he hit the game-winning walk-off home run in extra innings to help his team advance to the national championship.
The ratings reflected that too as the game drew 2.091 viewers on ESPN2, which made it the most watched pre-Finals game on any ESPN platform. Not only that, all three games between LSU and Wake Forest drew in record numbers.
Thursday's @WakeBaseball & @LSUbaseball @NCAABaseball Semi Finals game scored another record audience -— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) June 23, 2023
⚾️ 2.091 million viewers (ESPN2)
⚾️ Most-watched pre-Finals game on ESPN platforms
⚾️ The trilogy between them has the top-3 pre-Finals #MCWS games on record (ESPN platforms) pic.twitter.com/KXFHfcstWD
These ratings shouldn’t shock anyone as college baseball has been gaining steam since the end of the pandemic in 2021. This season, ESPN broadcasted more than 200 college baseball games on its linear networks and streamed over 2,900+ games on ESPN+. When ESPN broadcast the NCAA Regionals, it was the most watched Regionals on ESPN platforms in over a decade, including a 37% jump in viewership from last year’s Regionals.
LSU and Wake Forest have been the only teams this season to be ranked as the No.1 team in the country. LSU was the preseason No.1 team and it remained that way for 12 weeks before Wake Forest took over that spot due to the Tigers’ late-season struggles. Even though LSU was the No.5 national seed in the tournament, the Tigers and the Demon Deacons were the two best teams in college baseball.
Although a lot of eyes were on future first-rounders LSU outfielder Dylan Crews and Wake Forest third baseman Brock Wilken, there were even more eyes on the pitching battle between Skenes and Lowder.
Skenes, the Dick Howser Award winner and the SEC Pitcher of the Year, broke the SEC and LSU record for most strikeouts in a single season after he struck out nine Demon Deacon batters. It was another legendary performance by Skenes as he pitched on short rest and was the second time he had pitched 120+ times in less than five days as he hurled 120 pitches in LSU’s 6-3 victory over Tennessee last Saturday, fanning 12 batters.
Lowder also had a legendary performance on the mound. held LSU scoreless for seven innings, striking six Tiger batters. Lowder only allowed three hits against a very dangerous LSU batting lineup that has Crews, White and Tre Morgan. Lowder’s performance only enhances his stock as he is projected to be the No.2 pitcher to be taken in the MLB Draft after Skenes.
Although the pitching battles between the two teams make up most of this story, Morgan’s game-saving play at the top of the eighth will be talked about for a long time.
When Wake Forest shortstop Marek Houston bunted the ball down the first base line on a safety squeeze, Morgan read the play, quickly pounced on the ball and flicked it to catcher Alex Milazzo to throw out the runner coming home. If anything, it looked eerily similar to the Derek Jeter flip play in the 2001 ALDS against the Athletics. It was absolute redemption for Morgan as he got tagged out in almost the same way in an eerily similar situation in LSU’s 3-2 loss to Wake Forest on Monday.
“As soon as I saw the bunt, like, the angle of the bat, I knew he was going to first,” said White. “I didn’t see Tre’. I was, like, oh, God, they’re going to score. Then he came flying out of nowhere and Milazzo put a great tag on, so that was pretty awesome.”
Even after Skenes and Lowder left the game, LSU’s Thatcher Hurd and Wake Forest’s Michael Massey were still dealing through extra innings. However, at the bottom of the 11th inning, the storybook ending came.
Wake Forest brought on its All-American closer Camden Minacci, who had 13 saves on the year. Minacci went viral for his postgame comments after Wake Forest’s 3-2 victory over LSU on Monday, stating his team was “impossible” to beat.
Well, Minacci may have spoken too soon. After Crews singled to get on base, White blasted a walk-off two-run homer to end the game to bring LSU to the national championship against Florida and send Wake Forest packing on a long plane ride back to Winston-Salem, N.C. White’s home run was his 22nd of the year and brought his RBI total to 100.
After White was free from the celebratory mob at home plate, he consoled his close friend Minacci, who both grew up together in Tampa, Fla.
“I’ve known Camden and Bennett Lee for quite some time,” White said. “We’re all from Tampa. I played with him, against him growing up my whole life. And he’s one of my closest friends. So I didn’t want him to feel anything. I just wanted to make sure he was all right.”
LSU head coach Jay Johnson also reminded the press just how good the pitchers from both teams were in the postgame press conference.
“The best pitched college baseball game I’ve ever seen from both sides,” Johnson said. “Obviously what Paul did was spectacular. What Thatcher did was spectacular. You might see four pitchers that were on that mound tonight from both teams that will pitch in Major League Baseball All-Star Games.”
Other than the 1996 College World Series national championship game where Warren Morris’ walk-off home run gave LSU a 8-7 victory over Miami, this game may be the greatest game in college baseball history due to the stakes and the amount of talent on the field. Although the scoreboard shows that LSU won, the real winner was college baseball.