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|GAME AT A
Point: Arkansas started its closer, Stephen Richards, whose longest outing this year was three innings. Richards kept his team in the game until the third, when No. 9 hitter Austin Nola singled to lead off the inning and Richards issued a four-pitch walk to the next hitter, D.J. LeMahieu. Hogs coach Dave Van Horn said he knew at that point Richards was finished, and LSU went on to score three runs in the inning. Arkansas would never get close again.
OMAHA—Just in case Louisiana State’s utterly dominant performance during its current 13-game winning streak didn’t make it clear, Blake Dean put it bluntly.
“The way we’ve been playing,” said LSU’s junior DH, “it’s just tough to beat us right now with our pitching and our hitting the way it is, and I think we have peaked at the right time.”
That much is certain. The Tigers pounded a depleted Arkansas club 14-5 on Friday afternoon to reach the College World Series Finals for the first time since 2000. It was LSU’s second consecutive rout of the Razorbacks, following a 9-1 victory on Monday.
In between, Arkansas exhausted its pitching in a 12-inning classic against Virginia, while Louisiana State spent three days resting, going to the zoo and practicing. Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said his team had three very brisk practices since Monday, and the players were champing at the bit to get out and face a team with a different uniform on. They had to wait even longer once Friday arrived, as the start time was delayed two hours, 30 minutes by thunderstorms. No one was more eager than sophomore righthander Anthony Ranaudo, the LSU ace who turned in his shortest outing of the season in the CWS opener Saturday against Virginia.
“He was hard to live with this week—there was no talking to him,” Mainieri said. “I thought he would bite your head off when you tried to talk to him this week, because he wanted to get out there and pitch so bad . . . He felt like he let his team down the other day, and we were glad we were able to come back and take him off the hook a little bit by winning that game. But there was no way he was going to let his team down today.”
Ranaudo’s worst start prior to Sunday came on May 2 at Arkansas, when he allowed five runs in six innings of work. But he was in complete control Friday, allowing just four hits and no walks while striking out five over six shutout innings. He left with an 11-0 lead after throwing just 77 pitches. Mainieri said in the back of their minds, he and pitching coach David Grewe hoped to have a sizable lead by the middle innings so they could take Ranaudo out after about 75 pitches and rest him for Tuesday or Wednesday. As Mainieri said afterward, it couldn’t have worked out any more perfect for the Tigers.
“Well, I think you saw the real Anthony Ranaudo today,” Mainieri said. “He was absolutely outstanding—he had good downward slope on his fastball, he had his curveball going, and he even threw a few changeups, which were outstanding . . . He looked like a major league pitcher today, looked like a champion.”
So did LSU. Facing Arkansas closer-turned-emergency starter Stephen Richards, the Tigers got on the board in the first inning on Dean’s two-out double and Micah Gibbs’ RBI single, and they never looked back. They cobbled together three more runs in the third, added solo homers and the fifth and sixth, then busted the game wide open with five in the seventh.
Mainieri started putting in his reserves over the final three innings, and still the offensive onslaught didn’t stop. The Tigers tacked on three more runs in the ninth, two of them courtesy of third baseman Tyler Hanover’s two-run homer. Hanover replaced starter Derek Helenihi in the seventh and stung the ball in both of his at-bats, contributing two of LSU’s 16 hits.
“You look at them physically,” said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, “they’ve got some really good baseball players, a couple really good football players—they might even have a basketball player over there, I don’t know. They’re pretty good. We went 1-4 against them. They’ve got guys coming off the bench who would start for a lot of teams—guys coming off the bench, bing bang, hitting balls off the wall.”
Arkansas was a heavy underdog in this game to begin with, in light of its pitching situation and senior shortstop Ben Tschepikow’s broken finger. But the Hogs have plenty to be proud of after their fine season, and at least they had a silver lining in the ninth, scoring three runs on Chase Leavitt’s homer to right field against LSU closer Matty Ott.
“It was fun to see us hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, because we’ve been doing that all year,” Van Horn said. “It didn’t mean anything, but it meant something to us. That was perfect—if we were going to lose, that was perfect.”