OMAHA, Neb. — Don’t know if the outlaw Jesse James ever did much work in these parts, but he would have appreciated what a band of desperadoes the LSU Tigers became in Game 1 of the College World Series finals.
In the end, the train LSU tried to rob was simply one the Florida Gators were unwilling to part with. And a 4-3 loss sends the Tigers into familiar territory: They must win Game 2 to force a Game 3.
It almost worked for LSU. Despite Eric Walker being a scratch because of the mysterious injury in his throwing arm. Despite promising Todd Peterson ailing, too.
Caleb Gilbert was used up after a brilliant start Saturday against Oregon State to get the Tigers here. And coach Paul Mainieri locked away Jared Poché and Alex Lange, wanting their arms to have proper rest for Game 2 and a potential Game 3.
OMAHA, Neb. — Every time Jared Poché took the mound for the past month, he had to wonder if …
One would call it a calculated risk on the part of Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn if it weren’t for the fact that they didn't have many good options. Any good options.
They were forced to rummage through their garage and knock together some spare parts into something that could chug past Florida on Monday night. The Gators, on the other hand, pulled a Ferrari off their showroom floor named Brady Singer, polished up the chrome and let him run.
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So LSU trotted out Russell Reynolds, the Parkview Baptist High graduate with the 8.59 earned run average that looked like a practical joke given the championship circumstances.
But Reynolds was pretty salty for most of his outing. He faced the minimum number of Gators allowed through 3.1 innings, thanks in part to a pair of throw-outs at second by catcher Michael Papierski. But in the fourth inning, he started to unravel, with three straight walks.
Walks in these situations are like lighting sticks of dynamite and setting one atop each base. The Gators made LSU pay, ringing up three runs on pop-foul sacrifice fly (of sorts) by Austin Langworthy that perhaps shortstop Kramer Robertson should have let drop and a two-run ground-rule double by Jonathan India that bounced over the centerfield fence.
On came Nick Bush for 3.1 innings. He gave up just the one run on a sacrifice by India to make it 4-2 Gators. Hunter Newman — the former closer now surpassed by the new kid in town, Zack Hess — followed with 2.1 innings of gutsy shutout relief.
And that was it. LSU had much to be proud of, like outhitting the Gators 9-6. They put a couple of dents in Singer’s shiny fenders, namely a shocking solo home run that Antoine Duplantis pole-vaulted into the Florida bullpen in right field, just his second of the season.
The blast seemed to rattle Singer, who then hit Zach Watson with a pitch, walked Josh Smith and gave up a stinging RBI single to Beau Jordan. Smith then drove in Greg Deichmann in the eighth with a single to right but was thrown out on a bang-bang play trying to stretch his hit into a double.
In the end, it wasn’t the dredging-the-bottom-of-the-staff pitching that did in the Tigers. It was the breaks and the mistakes that spelled the difference.
If Watson had made a better break on India’s ground-rule double, he might have tracked it down before it went over the fence. It was a tough play, but he seemed to lose track of it in the early evening glare.
OMAHA, Neb. — Running out of options while on this quest for a national championship, LSU ha…
If Robertson hadn’t thought he could take second on a ball in the dirt to Cole Freeman, Freeman’s subsequent single up the middle might have had the Tigers in business with two on and one out in the seventh. If Smith had been called safe (sorry, Tigers fans; I think he was out) then LSU might have had another shot with just one out in the eighth.
In the end, the loss was predictable for the Tigers, though the way it came about was not. And in the end, the way that LSU pushed and pushed Florida despite a huge deficit in pitching talent has to be heartening for the Tigers in a moral victory sense — even though LSU's baseball tradition is hardly built on moral victories.
"Our kids played their hearts out," Mainieri said. "I think we played well in most areas. We had a couple of mistakes that probably hurt us a little bit.
“We don’t think this series is over by a long stretch."
OMAHA, Neb. — LSU catcher Michael Papierski got his historic second home run ball back Satur…
LSU should think that way. And, frankly, so should Florida, who now turns to a talented but lightly used starter in Tyler Dyson (3-0, 3.55 ERA in 33 innings) to go against Poche, the seasoned campaigner.
"We have a freshman pitcher going (Tuesday) against the winningest pitcher in LSU history," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "We're going to have to play better."
If LSU can win with Poche then pass the baton to Lange on Wednesday, the Tigers will be riding momentum at full gallop toward that seventh national title.
“We have nothing to hang our heads about,” Deichmann said. “We’re going to come out tomorrow with a lot of positivity, a lot of energy, and get after it.”
In the final analysis, LSU’s situation is serious, but not hopeless. Not nearly as dire as it looked the previous Monday against Oregon State after a 13-1 shellacking that was insult paired with Walker's injury.
LSU came back with two wins improbable wins against the Beavers.
At least the Tigers know the way.