OMAHA, NEB. — For the first time this season, Jack Wholestaff wasn’t up to the task for the LSU Tigers.
And now the Tigers’ season is over.
LSU danced around its lack of a consistent third starter, and a dependable closer, all season en route to 54 wins, the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship and the program’s 17th trip to the College World Series.
At least 13 times this season, the Tigers went with what coach Paul Mainieri called his “Jack Wholestaff” approach, stitching together a complete game out of a cast of relief pitchers.
Every time it worked, but not with LSU’s hopes of a seventh national championship on the line. TCU beat the Tigers for the second time this week, sending LSU back to Baton Rouge with an 8-4 defeat before an announced crowd of 26,803 at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
LSU, which lost 10-3 Sunday to TCU, saw its season end at 54-12. TCU (51-14) advanced to a rematch with Vanderbilt at 7 p.m. Friday.
“We scratched and clawed and fought as hard as we could,” Mainieri said afterward with shortstop Alex Bregman sitting to his right.
“I don’t wanna think about life without Alex Bregman,” the coach said.
The Horned Frogs, who lost 1-0 Tuesday to Vandy, must beat the unbeaten Commodores twice to reach next week’s CWS championship series.
The LSU bullpen looked as busy as one of the nightclubs in Omaha’s Old Market on Thursday night, with pitchers, catchers and coaches shuffling about and running in and out of the game.
The Tigers used eight pitchers in all, starting with senior left-hander Zac Person, but most of them ran into some trouble along the way.
“We got out-played,” Mainieri said. “They brought in a relief pitcher who baffled us. We didn’t pitch well enough.”
LSU managed to retire the Horned Frogs in order only twice. Only Parker Bugg, the final Tiger to take the mound, lasted more than 1.1 innings, as he pitched the final two.
By that time, LSU seemed hopelessly behind, considering how well the TCU bullpen was working. The game ended as former Live Oak pitcher Preston Guillory, the Horned Frogs’ third pitcher of the night, got Jared Foster swinging for the final out.
“It’s unfair that teams get judged at LSU whether or not they won the last game,” Mainieri said. “These kids played their hearts out. ... Right now my feelings are very sad for our players who gave so much with the goal of winning a national championship.”
For the first time in this College World Series, LSU scored first.
Jake Fraley battled through 11 pitches to earn a one-out walk from TCU starter Mitchell Traver. He stole second, then came home on an RBI single by Kade Scivicque.
But TCU struck back quickly with a three-run second. Evan Skoug and Dane Steinhagen had back-to-back singles off Person, then Derek Odell walked to load the bases.
Skoug then came home on a walk to Keaton Jones to tie the game. After a strikeout to Nolan Brown, LSU brought in Hunter Newman, but nine-hole hitter Garrett Crain lined his first pitch to right, bringing home Steinhagen and Odell for a 3-1 Horned Frogs lead.
LSU scored four runs in a decisive third inning Tuesday that paved the way to its 5-3 victory over Cal State Fullerton. The Tigers struck for two runs to tie it 3-3 in the third Thursday night.
Jack Wholestaff ran around for LSU in the fifth.
Bain issued walks to Cody Jones and Connor Wanhanen sandwiched around a strikeout of Jeremie Fagnan, then was touched by Skoug for an RBI double that sent Wanhanen to third.
LSU brought in Jake Godfrey, its fourth pitcher, but he was greeted immediately by a two-RBI signle by Steinhagen, which prompted a call back to the bullpen for Hunter Devall.
Devall got Odell to end it with a grounder to first, but the damage was done, plenty enough lead for TCU reliever Trey Teakell.
Teakell replaced Traver with one out and one on in the LSU fourth. He choked off the Tigers’ hopes of a comeback completely, retiring all 13 LSU batters he faced over 4.1 innings on a highly efficient 36 pitches.
“He threw a pretty downhill fastball, 92-95 mph,” Bregman said. “Had to get on top of it. We just missed a few of them.”
By the time he gave way to Guillory in the eighth, he had an 8-3 lead and ran his record to 3-1.
LSU scored one last run in the ninth as Chris Sciambra reached on a bloop double to left then came home on a double to left by Andrew Stevenson. They were the Tigers’ first hits since the third.
The game was likely the last appearance in an LSU uniform for All-American shortstop Bregman, who last week was the No. 2 overall pick in the major league draft by the Houston Astros.
Bregman went 1-for-4 and left another one of his trademark defensive gems for Tigers fans to remember him by. Odell led off the fourth against Austin Bain with a grounder heading toward center field, but Bregman went almost into center field and made a pinpoint spinning throw to first to get the TCU base runner.
“The road to Omaha for the guys in that locker room coming back next year starts now,” Bregman said.