LSU is 1-0 in the College World Series for the first time since 2009 — the last time the Tigers won the national championship.
Trailing throughout the game, LSU staged another late rally by scoring two unearned runs in the bottom of the eighth inning for a 5-4 win over Florida State on opening night at the College World Series Saturday in front of 25,305 at TD Ameritrade Park.
The No. 4 seed Tigers (49-17) won their 17th straight — including eight of the come-from-behind variety — to advance to a 6 p.m. ESPN game Monday against No. 1 seed Oregon State (55-4), which defeated Cal State Fullerton 6-5 in the CWS opener Saturday afternoon for its 22nd straight win. That’s 39 in a row between the two powers.
"Something's gotta give," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "So, we'll see. I'd like to see you all show up for that game if you're not doing anything on Monday night. It might be a lot of fun."
Freshman right-hander Eric Walker (8-1, 3.46 ERA) will start for the Tigers against sophomore right-hander Bryce Fehmel (5-2, 3.80 ERA). Florida State (45-22) will play Cal State Fullerton (39-24) at 1 p.m. Monday in the loser's bracket — something LSU found itself in after game one in 2013 and '15 and went 1-4 over those two years.
"This is only the second time we've won the first game of the World Series," Mainieri said of his fifth trip to Omaha with LSU. "And I can't tell you what a relief it is to just win the first ballgame. I think our team will play much better Monday night now that they have one under their belt. They're going to go out there and let it rip on Monday night."
Walker will replace regular No. 2 starter Jared Poché in the rotation on Monday night, but Poché doesn't mind now. He got the win over Florida State in relief of LSU starter Alex Lange, who allowed four runs on seven hits and four walks. Poché entered in the seventh and shut out the Seminoles, holding them to two hits and zero walks to improve to 11-3 on the season and to 38-12 in his career as he finally tied the school record for career wins after missing in his last two starts when he did not pitch well.
"It's unbelievable," Poche said. "With all the great pitchers that have come through LSU, to tie that record and put my name at the top of the list, it's something that's hard to describe."
Poche tied Scott Schultz, who won 38 games over four seasons from 1992-95.
"Been thinking about it all year and been hoping that it would happen obviously the last two weeks," Poche said. "But I guess God had a better plan and wanted it to happen in Omaha. Definitely didn't think it was going to happen with me coming out of the bullpen."
Zack Hess got his second save of the season by finishing the ninth for Poché with runners on first and second as he struck out Dylan Busby looking to end the game. Busby had given Florida State a 2-0 lead over Lange in the first inning with a two-run home run to dead center field. The Seminoles took a 3-1 lead in the third and 4-2 in the fifth, but LSU just kept coming back.
The Tigers scored their two in the eighth for the 5-4 lead thanks to two errors by right fielder Steven Wells and third error by catcher Cal Raleigh ... all on the same play.
After one out, Cole Freeman singled to start the rally. Antoine Duplantis followed with a single to right that Wells let get by him, and Freeman went to third. After retrieving the ball, Wells threw to second to try to get Duplantis, but that throw skipped through the base. And Freeman took off for home. He likely would have been out, but catcher Cal Raleigh mishandled the throw from third baseman Dylan Busby for an error that allowed Freeman to slide in safely to tie the game 4-4 as Duplantis reached third. Then Greg Deichmann singled in Duplantis for the 5-4 lead.
"I was like, 'No, don't go,'" Mainieri said of Freeman's decision to charge home with the ball in the infield. "And then when he was safe, I was like, 'Yeah, yeah, good move.' But it was good fortune for us. I think if the catcher catches the ball, he's probably out."
Florida State starter Tyler Holton (10-3) took the loss after allowing eight hits and three earned runs in seven and a third innings.
LSU's Michael Papierski launched a home run over the left field fence and beyond the bullpen behind it in the fifth inning to get LSU within 4-3 off Holton. It was Papierski's ninth home of the season and just the third for LSU at TD Ameritrade since it opened in 2011. Mason Katz hit one in 2013, and Jared Foster hit one in 2015.
The Tigers blew a chance to tie it in the seventh when Nick Coomes led off with a walk, but Josh Smith failed to sacrifice bunt pinch-runner Jake Slaughter to second and flew out to left. Had Slaughter reached second, he would have scored on Papierski's single to center field. Instead, No. 9 hitter Beau Jordan came up with runners on first and second, and he grounded into a 5-4-3 double play.
"I thought our team didn't really play that great," Mainieri said. "And yet somehow we still found a way to win. We took advantage of a couple of missed plays by them."
LSU, meanwhile, turned three double plays and did not commit an error to three by FSU.
The Seminoles took a 4-2 lead in the top of the fifth on an RBI single by Quincy Nieporte. Lange walked Taylor Walls to start the inning and allowed a single to Jackson Lueck with one out. After Nieporte's single, Raleigh bounced into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. Lange got out of the sixth inning with a 6-4-3 double play as well.
Lange had control issues throughout the night and left in the seventh after hitting No. 9 hitter J.C. Flowers. Poché smoothly replaced Lange with help from the Tigers' stellar defense. He got out out of the seventh with a 5-3-5 double play, which was LSU's third straight to end an inning.
Poché then got the first two out in the eighth before allowing a single to Raleigh. He got Drew Mendoza to bounce to shortstop Kramer Robertson for a force out. In the ninth, Poché allowed a lead-off single to Matt Henderson before striking out pinch-hitters Nick Derr and Kyle Cavanaugh. Hess replaced Poché because Mainieri wanted Hess to pitch against Dylan Busby, who was 2-for-4 at the time with three RBIs and a two-run homer. But Mainieri didn't want Busby to be the first batter Hess faced. So Hess went in to pitch to lead-off hitter Taylor Walls, but walked him. Then he struck Busby out to end the game and get his second save.
"Busby's one of the best players in college baseball," Mainieri said. "What a job by Zack Hess. For a true freshman to come in with that environment and face that hitter, Zack was just amazing."
Florida State took a 3-1 lead in the top of the third on a RBI single by Busby after Lange had walked Walls to start the game. He settled down after the homer - the 15th of the season by Busby - to strike out Jackson Lueck looking and got Quincy Nieporte and Raleigh to fly out to center field to end the first.
The Tigers came right back to score a run in strange fashion in the bottom of the first to cut the Seminoles' lead to 2-1 and serve as a precursor to the eighth. With two outs and Duplantis aboard with a walk, Holton struck out Deichmann for the apparent third out. But it was on a wild pitch, and Deichmann reached first base as the ball bounced off catcher Raleigh's glove and ended up near the first base dugout. Duplantis had stolen second base on the pitch and continued around to third. With Holton not covering home plate, Duplantis raced home and scored.
"That definitely was a weird play," Duplantis said. "I don't think I've ever been part of something like that before."
Coach Mike Martin has been Florida State's coach since 1980 and couldn't remember seeing a guy score from first on a strikeout, but it was that kind of a night for the Seminoles.
"It's hard to cover that in practice," Martin mused. "OK, we're going to work on covering home when we strike a guy out with two outs."
Walls led off the Florida State third with a double off Lange. Busby followed with the RBI single for the 3-1 lead. LSU answered immediately to cut FSU's lead to 3-2. Freeman reached on a fielder's choice and stole second. Duplantis then singled in the run.
"They did put a lot of pressure on us on the bases," Martin said. "I never saw a guy score from first base on a strikeout. Tip your hat to them. The guy never stopped."
And for the first time since 2009, LSU was not stopped out of the starting gate in Omaha.
FIRST PITCH FOR SCALISE: Lange's first pitch of the game was given to NCAA officials who are having it sent to Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise at a hospital in Washington D.C. Scalise, a Republican and United States House of Representatives Majority Whip, was shot in the hip area and seriously injured while practicing for the congressional baseball team last Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Virginia.
LSU asked the NCAA to send the ball Scalise, an LSU graduate from Metairie, and has named Scalise an honorary coach of the Tigers in the World Series. Scalise had another surgery Saturday and was upgraded from critical to serious.
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