After his LSU team had completed an impressive two-game sweep of No. 1 national seed Oregon State on Saturday afternoon, coach Paul Mainieri had the opportunity to be an observer when Florida and TCU met a few hours later day to determine the other team in the CWS Championship Series.
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Behind the shutout pitching of ace Alex Faedo and closer Michael Byrne, the Gators knocked off the Horned Frogs 3-0. So, it will be an All-Southeastern Conference matchup to determine the national championship – LSU against Florida, the teams who shared the regular-season title.
“Truth be told, I was rooting for (Florida coach) Kevin (O’Sullivan) and the Gators,” Mainieri said. “It’s an awesome thing that these two SEC schools get to play for a national championship.
“Everybody knows one storyline. We tied for the regular-season title. We were hoping like crazy we could play Florida in the finals of the SEC tournament. It didn’t quite work out that way.”
LSU received great starting pitching from Alex Lange and Caleb Gilbert to post its back-to-back victories against the Beavers. Both pitchers gave up one run and two hits in 7.1 innings. Then, Zack Hess got the final five outs in both games.
The bottom of the Tigers lineup drove in all but two runs in the 3-1 and 6-1 victories. In the first victory, Josh Smith had a RBI double and a solo home run. Beau Jordan had a successful squeeze bunt in the first game and a solo homer in the second game.
In the clinching victory, Michael Papierski hit a pair of home runs – a three-run shot batting lefthanded and a solo blast from the right side. Antoine Duplantis had the other RBI in the second game with a single.
“It’s going to be somebody different every day who seems to step up,” senior shortstop Kramer Robertson said. “If one guy doesn’t have it, somebody else is going to pick him up.
“You can’t go out there and rely on one or two guys if you want to make it this far. You have to have everybody ready, one through nine in the lineup, and in the bullpen. You have to be ready when your name is called.”
The top four batters in the Tigers lineup are hitting below .200 as a group in the College World Series – Robertson (.190/4-for-21), Cole Freeman (.158/3-for-19), Duplantis (.263/5-for-19) and Greg Deichmann (.167/3-for-18).
Meanwhile, the next five hitters have a combined .288 CWS batting average – Zach Watson (.421/8-for-19), Smith (.176/3-for-17), Jordan (.250/3-for-12), Papierski (.286/4-for-14) and Jake Slaughter (.273/3-for-11).
Mainieri will need contributions from other members of the bullpen in the series opener Monday against Florida (6 p.m. Central/ESPN). Jared Poche will not pitch until the second game of the series. Lange will not be available until Wednesday.
Gilbert is obviously not going to throw until maybe Wednesday in relief. Eric Walker is on the shelf with an arm injury. So, it will be a bullpen game for the Tigers in the championship series opener.
Of course, there is much familiarity between the teams. Florida won two of three games from LSU in Gainesville in late March.
“A lot of information is out on both of us,” Poche said. “I guess whoever gets the job done in big situations will come out on top. It comes down to execution.”
Faedo bested Lange 1-0 in the series opener. Brady Singer, who will start Monday, beat the Tigers 8-1 in the second game. Then, LSU avoided a sweep by hitting three eighth-inning homers to rally for a 10-8 victory.
“We’re both vastly different than we were,” Robertson said. “Both teams are playing a lot better than they were at that point of the year. They had some injuries when we played them and didn’t have a full team. We didn’t have the energy from Watson and Papierski and we didn’t have Hess in the bullpen.”
LSU is a perfect 6-for-6 in championship situations in Omaha. The Tigers won five national title games and one championship series – against Texas in 2009. Florida has not won a national title in baseball. In 2011, the Gators dropped two straight games to South Carolina in the championship series.
“It’s just like a SEC weekend with more at stake,” Robertson said. “Both teams have great players. Both have great pitchers and play really good defense. Both teams are here for a reason. It’s going to be who goes out there and gets the job done.”
Here is the schedule for the CWS Championship Series. All times are Central.
Game 1: Florida vs. LSU, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2: Florida vs. LSU, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3 (if necessary): Florida vs. LSU, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Here is a breakdown of the teams in the CWS Championship Series.
Seed: No. 1; RPI: 2
Coach: Paul Mainieri
Current record: 52-18, overall; 21-9, SEC
Record against common opponents: 27-6 – 3-0 against Alabama, 3-1 against Arkansas, 3-0 against Auburn, 2-0 against Florida State, 3-0 against Georgia, 2-2 against Kentucky, 2-1 against Ole Miss, 5-0 against Mississippi State, 1-0 against Missouri, 3-1 against South Carolina, 0-1 against TCU.
Team statistics: Batting average – .291; ERA – 3.57; fielding percentage -- .980
Top offensive players
OF Antoine Duplantis, So., .318 BA, 1 HR, 60 RBI
2B Cole Freeman, Sr., .312 BA, 2 HR, 41 RBI
SS Kramer Robertson, Sr., .310 BA, 8 HR, 43 RBI
OF Greg Deichmann, Jr., .309 BA, 19 HR, 73 RBI
Caleb Gilbert, So., 7-1, 2.16 ERA
Zack Hess, Fr., 7-1, 4 saves, 2.62 ERA
Alex Lange, Jr., 10-5, 2.97 ERA
Jared Poche, Sr., 12-3, 3.33 ERA
Seed: No. 1; RPI: 3
Coach: Kevin O’Sullivan
Current record: 50-19, overall; 21-9, SEC
Record against common opponents: 22-7 – 3-0 against Alabama, 0-1 against Arkansas, 1-3 against Auburn, 3-0 against Florida State, 3-0 against Georgia, 2-1 against Kentucky, 3-0 against Ole Miss, 1-0 against Mississippi State, 3-0 against Missouri, 1-1 against South Carolina, 2-1 against TCU
Team statistics: Batting average – .259; ERA – 3.49; fielding percentage -- .980
Top offensive players
OF Nelson Maldonado, So., .303 BA, 6 HR, 32 RBI
3B Jonathan India, So., .268 BA, 6 HR, 32 RBI
1B JJ Schwarz, Jr., .262 BA, 12 HR, 54 RBI
2B Deacon Liput, So., .228, BA, 3 HR, 34 RBI
Michael Byrne, So., 4-5, 18 saves, 1.74 ERA
Alex Faedo, Jr., 9-2, 1 save, 2.26 ERA
Brady Singer, So., 8-5, 3.18 ERA
Jackson Kowar, So., 12-1, 4.15 ERA