OMAHA, Neb. — One down, three to go.
LSU’s 5-3 win Tuesday over Cal State Fullerton is only the first of four straight elimination games the Tigers must win to advance to the College World Series best-of-three championship series next week.
The good news: they used one pitcher in the game Tuesday.
Ace Alex Lange’s complete-game, six-hitter means LSU’s bullpen is completely available for Thursday’s rematch with TCU. In fact, LSU has used just two pitchers for more than 1.1 innings in the first two games at the College World Series: starters Jared Poché (4.1) and Lange (nine).
Those are the only two pitchers unavailable for Thursday as the Tigers expect to piece together the game with a host of relievers, which Mainieri refers to as “Jack Wholestaff.”
It’s a method — use five to eight relievers, with no pitcher throwing for more than two innings — the coach has used plenty this season as LSU has struggled to find a consistent No. 3 starter. Poché is expected to pitch Friday, and LSU would use the Wholestaff method Saturday again if it’s still alive.
Zac Person expects to be in that group of relievers Thursday who will pitch. He sat in the LSU locker room Tuesday smiling with confidence when asked about the Wholestaff way.
“I’m as confident as you can get,” he said. “I feel like our bullpen is as ready as they’ll ever be. This is what we’ve been working for since August. I don’t think it’ll be anything that we’ll make too big of a situation. It’s going to be the same thing as always: You go on the mound and get guys out. I think we have enough guys that are mentally tough enough that we’ll be ready to rise to this occasion.”
It’s unclear which reliever will start on the mound. In using this method, Mainieri has started Alden Cartwright, Person and Doug Norman.
Pitching coach Alan Dunn is confident in the group as well.
“Why not? We’ve got dudes that got to pitch,” Dunn said. “They’ve pitched all year. At this point in the season, dudes have to step up. We’re going to manage the game. I’m confident in our guys to do the job that we send out there.”
Clutch pinch hitter
Danny Zardon admits to hoping the opponent turns to a left-handed relief pitcher during each game.
Why? The sophomore reserve hits .375 against lefties.
He got his wish in the seventh inning Tuesday when Cal State Fullerton went to side-arm lefty Maxwell Gibbs with Chris Sciambra at bat. Mainieri made the switch, pinch-hitting Zardon for Sciambra.
He launched a shot into left-center field — a sacrifice fly caught near the warning track that drove in Kade Scivicque from third base for a much-needed insurance run.
“I see the ball better, I guess,” Zardon said of hitting lefties. “I feel like I take the same approach, lefty or righty.”
Gibbs, with an ERA of 3.38, wasn’t just any lefty: He’s a submarine hurler. He allowed just one hit in two innings against the Tigers.
“He was really sinking the baseball, and Zardon found a way to elevate something to the outfield and give us that big insurance run,” shortstop Alex Bregman said. “Coming off the bench was really hard to do, and I was really proud of him.”
Even before this season, LSU players had begged Mainieri to begin wearing a jersey during games. The coach has worn a lightweight jacket for the past several years.
He obliged Tuesday, slipping on a gold No. 1 jersey — the first time he has worn a jersey during a game since possibly 2011.
He tugged on the jersey after the game. “That was definitely the key to our victory today,” he said with a smile.
Will he keep wearing the jersey?
“I would think probably,” Mainieri said.
He stopped wearing jerseys a few years ago because he “put on a few (pounds) through the years,” the coach said. “I don’t think I wear a uniform all that well.”
Said Bregman: “We’ve been asking for a while. He caved in.”
Cal State Fullerton has now lost eight straight College World Series games dating to 2006. … Sciambra’s single in the second inning was the 1,000th hit in CWS history. … LSU trailed 3-0 against Cal State Fullerton, but it was far from the first time these Tigers have faced a deficit. At one point this season, LSU had trailed in 10 of 11 SEC games and had won seven of them. … Chris Chinea’s single in the third inning Tuesday broke an 0-for-14 slump. … Third baseman Conner Hale is 1 for his past 18 and hit into a double play Tuesday. He also had a sacrifice bunt. He’s 0-for-8 at the CWS.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.