OMAHA, Nebraska -- No. 4 seed LSU sent the Beavers there with a 23-game winning streak silencing, 3-1 victory Friday afternoon at TD Ameritrade Park in the final four of the College World Series. It was Oregon State's first loss since April 29 when it fell to USC, 7-5 in 10 innings. The Tigers (51-18) were part of that 23-0 run as they lost to Oregon State (56-5), 13-1 on Monday night.
"We're still 56-5 or whatever we are," Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. "And we need to put that behind us."
LSU, which has won two in a row and 19 of 20, can now eliminate Oregon State with a win on Saturday. The time of that game will be at 2 p.m. if TCU is still alive on Saturday, which means it will play Florida at 7 p.m. Saturday in Bracket Two. If TCU is eliminated by Florida Friday night, No. 4 seed LSU and No. 1 seed Oregon State wilI play at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Bracket One final for the right to advance to the best -of-three national championship series beginning at 6 p.m. Monday.
"I knew we were a much better team than we showed the first time against Oregon State," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "I know we had a better showing in us. Obviously, a phenomenal ballgame to watch. I'm sure it was a great game to play in. I know it was a great game to coach because you're going up against the top team - the number one team in the country. It's only got four losses."
Make that five.
For the seventh time in LSU's baseball history, it has made it to the second Saturday of the College World Series. The first six times it won the national championship - five times from 1991-2000 in the old format of a single championship game on the second Saturday and the sixth in 2009 when the Tigers won their only national title under the best-of-three championship series format (starting in 2003) on the subsequent Wednesday.
LSU ace Alex Lange put the Tigers in this position. The junior right-hander from Lee's Summit, Missouri, near here limited the top hitting team in the World Series - .324 entering the game - to two hits and one run through seven and a third innings for the win. Lange (10-5) pitched around four walks and struck out eight. He threw 115 pitches with 69 for strikes.
"He pitched like a big-game guy," Casey said. "And he's good. Man, he's real good."
If the first round draft choice by the Chicago Cubs pitches again, it will likely be in the third game of the national championship series at 7 p.m. Wednesday - if necessary.
"You've just got to prepare as if you're going Wednesday," Lange said. "If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen, but you can't just not expect to throw Wednesday. I'll be ready."
Before that, LSU will start sophomore right-hander Caleb Gilbert (6-1, 2.29) Saturday against Oregon State sophomore right-hander Drew Rasmussen (3-0, 0.79 ERA). Then it will be senior left-hander Jared Poche (12-3, 3.33 ERA) likely on Monday, a variety of arms on Tuesday.
Freshman right-hander Zack "Psycho" Hess relieved Lange in the eighth with one out and struck out Nick Madrigal and Trevor Larnach - Oregon State's No. 2 and 3 hitters - to end the inning. In the ninth, Hess struck out two more in retiring the side for his fourth save and third of the CWS.
"I was trying to pitch deep in the ballgame to give Hess a break," Lange said. "He's going to be going almost every game so I'm trying to keep his pitch count down as much as possible. If we're fortunate enough to make the championship series, he's going to have to be ready to go every day. That was my mentality, take this team as deep into the game as I can, and when it's time - hand it over to the monster."
Amid football weather at a breezy 72 degrees with a nice cloud cover, the energized Tigers struck for a 2-0 lead in the second inning against undefeated junior right-hander Jake Thompson, and Lange never fell behind. Thompson left in the seventh trailing 3-1 after allowing six hits and three earned runs with a walk and five strikeouts. He took the loss to fall to 14-1.
"We beat an All-American today that was 14-0," Mainieri said. "First loss of the year."
Greg Deichmann started the LSU second with a double to right field. Then Zach Watson, who was 3-for-3 on the day and is 8-for-16 for the CWS, ripped a single to put runners on the corners. Josh Smith, who would hit a solo home run in the seventh for a 3-1 LSU lead off Thompson, followed with an RBI single, and the Tigers were up, 1-0.
Beau Jordan then placed a perfect bunt between the mound and first base to score Deichmann on a safety squeeze sacrifice for a 2-0 advantage. Michael Papierski sent one to the warning track in center for the second out that got Smith to third, but Jake Slaughter grounded out to end the inning.
Lange opened very sharply, retiring the Beavers in order in the first and second with a strikeout and no walks.
His old nemesis - walks - got him into trouble in the third after a one-out double by Michael Gretler. Lange then walked No. 9 batter Cadyn Grenier before getting Steven Kwan to pop out to shortstop for the second out. Lange caught a break with Kwan before the pop out, as Kwan appeared to lace a double down the left field line that would have cut LSU's lead to 2-1, but it was called foul. Replays showed it appeared to hit the fair line.
Lange proceeded to walk Nick Madrigal and Trevor Larnach to force in a run and cut his lead to 2-1. But he struck out No. 4 batter K.J. Harrison with the bases loaded to end the inning, and instead of being tied 2-2 he was ahead, 2-1.
Tyler Malone doubled with one out off Lange in the fourth, but he struck out Adley Rutschman and got Michael Gretler to pop out to first base. Lange walked Madrigal with two outs in the fifth, then fanned Larnach to end the inning.
The Beavers went out in order in the sixth and seventh with Lange notching two more strikeouts. He got Kwan to ground out to second in the eighth before giving way to Hess.
Lange won his second elimination game at the World Series, having previously beaten Cal State Fullerton, 5-3, in 2015 as a freshman. He was near tears as he came off the mound.
"This team and this community, it's pretty special," Lange said. "I had a sense of calmness about me in the morning when I woke up and getting to the yard. I was expecting to be amped up. But I was calm and relaxed. This is why I came to LSU - to play in these big games. It's something I'll remember forever for sure."
Unless he pitches and wins again on Wednesday.
Glenn Guilbeau covers LSU sports for the USA Today Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter at @LSUBeatTweet.
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