LSU finds some drama of its own
OMAHA, Neb. – Who says the drama only belongs to Texas.
The Longhorns found some crazy ways to win games in the postseason, including using a pair of homers in the bottom of the ninth to beat Arizona State last Friday.
But against LSU in the opening game of the best-of-three College World Series Championship Series, the Longhorns ran out of magic. The excitement on Monday night belonged to LSU as the Tigers took a thrilling 7-6 win in 11 innings.
“The dramatic went to them tonight,” Texas designated hitter Russell Moldenhauer said. “We knew it had to end at some point. Now we just have to come back tomorrow with the same feeling we had at the beginning of today’s game.”
But the stakes will be even higher Tuesday. LSU is one win from becoming national champions and Texas is on the ropes.
“We didn’t play for a national title tonight, but we did win a game and will play for the national title tomorrow. That’s pretty cool,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “With that said, there’s not going to be a single guy on our team that is going to say we only need to win one of our next two games. Our kids take this game day-by-day.”
Monday night, the Tigers had to fight inning-by-inning.
With senior right-handed pitcher on the mound, you could forgive the Tigers a little overconfidence. Coleman had been dominant in the postseason. His night, at least, didn’t go as planned.
Louis Coleman’s dominant run in the postseason hit a rough patch against Texas. The senior righty allowed six runs and nine hits in six innings. But as has been the case the whole season, other players rose to the occasion.
Freshmen Mikie Mahtook and Matty Ott led the charge Monday.
Mahtook had a night to remember. On a hot and humid night at Rosenblatt Stadium, Mahtook finished nine innings 0-for-4 – striking out three times and hitting into a double play. He even had to hook up to an IV after the sixth inning because of cramps.
He got untracked with a single in the 10th inning, and took the game by the throat in the 11th when he lined a single into center to drive in the winning run.
“It was pretty frustrating how I started the game and Jared Mitchell just came up to me and said not worry and to just keep my head up. That helped my confidence,” Mahtook said. “On the game-winning hit, I just took a ball on the inside half and fought it off into center field.”
Mahtook got the job done at the plate and freshman reliever Matty Ott took care of the defense.
Ott had thrown three innings just twice coming into the game, but on the biggest stage possible Ott looked nothing like a first-year player as he held Texas hitless for three frames.
“My arm was feeling fine out there. I condition and weight lift all season long to be able to come in a game like this and throw three or four innings,” Ott said. “We prepare ourselves for the challenges that we need to.”
But the challenge is even bigger now. In order to pick up LSU’s first national title since 2000, the Tigers must find a way to close out the Longhorns, and the Tigers would like to do it Tuesday and finish the season on a 15 game winning streak.
That could prove difficult.
Last season, Georgia defeated Fresno State 7-6 in the first game of the title series. Fresno fought back to win Games 2 and 3 and the national title.
LSU has to avoid the same fate as their SEC rival to bring home its sixth national championship, but there’s never a shortage of drama in Omaha.
“We’ve won a lot of games, I think something like 14 in a row, and not all of those games have been easy victories. Some have been tough as well,” Mainieri said. “We celebrate and analyze victories until midnight. Then we think about the next day.”
The Texas bullpen was unable to take care of business in the latter innings. The Longhorns also lifted starting pitcher Chance Ruffin after just 5 2/3 innings.
Apparently Ruffin and the UT coaching staff weren’t on the same page.
“My calf was cramping a bit, but I was feeling fine and fighting through it,” a visibly angry Ruffin said. “I never was asked how I was feeling. The decision was just made.”
Ruffin struck out 10 batters and allowed three runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri has a tough decision to make Tuesday.
After fighting through a game without a good performance from Louis Coleman, the Tigers can start right-handed pitcher Anthony Ranaudo on short rest or go with a rested arm by choosing Austin Ross or Daniel Bradshaw.
“Ranaudo has never pitched on three days rest, so we’re going to have to see how he feels in the morning,” Mainieri said. “There are a lot of little things to think about in this situation.”
Against Arkansas in his last start, Ranaudo struck out four batters and allowed just four hits in six shutout innings.
With his team in a must-win situation Tuesday, Texas coach Augie Garrido will send freshman Taylor Jungmann to the mound.
Jungmann was shaky in relief Monday and quickly removed from the game. The righty, however, has been one of UT’s most consistent pitchers down the stretch.
“I think when you get in different environments, things can change,” Garrido said. “He hadn’t pitched in that role [relief] many times this season.”
Against Arizona State in his last CWS outing, Jungmann struck out six and allowed just two hits in 5 2/3 innings.