OMAHA, Neb. — The beach ball rally was all the rage for two days with LSU baseball.
Then came along No. 1-ranked Oregon State to deflate it.
Deflate doesn’t exactly describe it. The Beavers crushed the Tigers’ ball, pulverized it, set it on fire and wrote “Bleauxout!” with the ashes.
OMAHA, Neb. — When playing against a team with four losses in 59 tries, every mistake and un…
A 13-1 Oregon State victory, the Beavers 56th in 60 games this season, set them firmly in control of Bracket One of the College World Series. It turned LSU into Rogue One, trying to figure out a way between now and Saturday to find and exploit a weakness in the Death Star from Corvallis.
Here are some suggestions, other than a couple of proton torpedoes down Oregon State’s exhaust port (they won’t be expecting that): Stop walking so many people. Don’t make errors. Get clutch hits. Generally, play as close to a perfect game as humanly possible.
Oregon State ground down LSU with ruthless efficiency, playing nearly perfectly itself save an error on second baseman Nick Madrigal on a tough grounder by Josh Smith in the fifth and a solo home run by Zach Watson in the seventh. The Beavers took advantage of the Tigers’ errors, bunting men over, coming through with the hit when the hit and run was called and making it seem like every walk (the Tigers allowed 12 of them) came home to roost.
Add to that a rare gem of a pitching performance by Oregon State starter Bryce Fehmel — supposedly the No. 3 starter on this team if you include the now exiled Luke Heimlich — and you have a recipe for an Irwin Allen disaster movie of a baseball game from an LSU perspective.
OMAHA, Neb. — LSU missed its mark Monday night, and not just on the scoreboard.
It was the second-most lopsided CWS loss ever for the Tigers and the fourth-most runs they have ever surrendered here in Omaha. By the time K.J. Harrison hit a grand slam in the sixth to make it 8-0 — the first grand slam in the CWS in TD Ameritrade Park, by the way — the Beavers were ready to drop the mic. And LSU was ready to pick up the pieces after its first loss in what seems like ages.
“Heck of a way for a 17-game winning streak to end,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said glumly.
It’s worth remembering that as dominant as Oregon State looked, it’s the same team that trailed 5-1 early against Cal State Fullerton on Saturday before rallying to win 6-5. And that’s the same Cal State Fullerton that became the first team eliminated from the CWS on Monday at the hands of Florida State, which LSU now meets in an elimination game.
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In other words, anything can happen in baseball, and better to be buried by an avalanche of mistakes and ill fortune in one CWS game than to be paper cut to death by them over the course of two.
Perhaps the worst thing that happened to LSU was one of the first things to go kerflooey for the Tigers.
Freshman starting pitcher Eric Walker gave up a first-inning run but sailed through a 1-2-3 second and came out for the third when he started looking like a horse pulling up on the back stretch in the Preakness. He signaled that he needed to come out of the game after throwing four pitches in the third.
Walker experienced a troubling recurrence of the forearm tightness he suffered a week earlier throwing a simulated game back in Baton Rouge. He threw again Saturday morning at Creighton with what was said were no ill effects, prompting coach Paul Mainieri to put senior Jared Pochè in the bullpen and start Walker on Monday.
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Pochè pitched superbly in relief Saturday and will likely get the start Wednesday night against the Seminoles trying to keep LSU’s season alive. Whether Walker will be healthy enough to pitch again in the CWS given the chance is a question no one can answer at the moment, but two arm issues in a week suggests that he’s done.
If Pochè and LSU can eliminate FSU on Wednesday, the Tigers will have to beat Oregon State twice. That means having as many quality arms as possible at their disposal, or pitchers who can rise to something better than what they’ve given all season. Caleb Gilbert, who came on in relief of Walker and held down the Beavers until they broke through with a couple of unearned runs in the fifth, could be one of those pitchers.
LSU manufactured a 5-4 win Saturday dancing around an off night by Alex Lange on Saturday against Florida State. But losing Walker alone was probably too much for LSU to overcome against an Oregon State team playing at the height of its considerable powers.
Are the Beavers that much better than the Tigers? Of course not. But it wouldn’t hurt if LSU found an air pump and some patches for that beach ball between now and Wednesday night, or figuring out how to beat Oregon State twice won’t matter.