OMAHA, Neb. — Alex Lange sat lonely at his locker scrolling through his phone before glancing up to see a reporter.
He had a surprised look. After all, LSU’s freshman ace didn’t pitch in the 10-3 loss to TCU on Sunday in the College World Series, but he will pitch the next game – the most crucial of this event for the Tigers.
It’s win or go home.
“This game is just as important as any game I’ve thrown all year,” Lange said. “Go out and give my team a chance to win. If it doesn’t happen, there are consequences. Nothing changes. My approach doesn’t change.”
The Tigers play the winner of the Vanderbilt-Cal State Fullerton game at 2 p.m. Tuesday in an elimination game.
The Vandy-Fullerton game was suspended in the sixth inning because of rain. The teams will resume play at 11 a.m. Monday on ESPN2. Fullerton has a 3-0 lead.
Meanwhile, LSU has its All-American ready. That was by design, coach Paul Mainieri said.
“That’s part of the reason why he’s pitching on Tuesday,” Mainieri said. “Not that I expected us to lose today, but had we won today, he would have been pitching that winners’ bracket game. Knowing that we could have lost a tough game to a tough team, who else do you want on the mound than Alex Lange pitching in that game?”
LSU is 14-2 in games this season in which Lange starts. The Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year is 11-0 with a 1.89 ERA.
Those numbers helped boost a gloomy postgame locker room.
“Feels great,” outfielder Jake Fraley said, pondering the idea of having Lange start Tuesday. “(Lange) has done amazing things all year, but all of that is forgotten. He’s focused on this game. We’re excited to play behind him.”
LSU must do what most think is against all odds: win four straight elimination games to reach the best-of-three national championship series. The Tigers would have to win Thursday and beat the winner bracket champion Friday and Saturday.
For a team lacking a consistent No. 3 starting pitcher, that seems like an overwhelming thing, right? Mainieri and his group have confidence. All of LSU’s relievers are available. The Tigers used seven relief pitchers Sunday. None threw more than 24 pitches, and Parker Bugg and Zac Person weren’t used.
Jared Poché threw 79 pitches in his 4.1 innings and will likely pitch Friday or Saturday if the Tigers are still alive, Mainieri said.
“It’s like losing Game 1 of a regional. Got to win four straight to win it,” Mainieri said. “Fortunately, the tournament is spread out a little bit. We used a lot of pitchers today, but most of it was to get some guys’ feet wet in the College World Serises. Nobody was really taxed. We’ll have everybody available.”
Poché retired the side on three strikeouts in the first inning of Sunday’s game for a first in 17 years for the program.
No LSU pitcher has had a 1-2-3 inning with three strikeouts in a College World Series game since Doug Thompson did it in 1998 — a span of 19 games.
Sunday’s game was delayed by 30 minutes as a light rain shower hit the ballpark just before the scheduled first pitch at 2 p.m.
It was the 11th LSU game affected by rain this year. The time consumed in rain delays this season was 11 hours, 48 minutes, according to the school.
Alex Bregman won an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove at shortstop, and Andrew Stevenson won one for outfield. The announcement came just before Sunday’s game. ... Bregman broke his CWS slump with a leadoff single in the fourth inning. It was his first hit in nine at-bats at the CWS, dating to 2013.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.