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|GAME AT A
Point: D.J. LeMahieu’s two-run double down the left-field line tied the score in the ninth inning, and LSU had all the momentum from there.
The Tigers might be leaning on their bullpen again tomorrow. Mainieri said he was uncertain whether or not he would start ace Anthony Ranaudo on three days’ rest for the first time in his career, but it seems unlikely Ott will be available for much Tuesday after throwing 49 pitches Monday. That means some of the less-heralded members of the pen will have to come up big again.
OMAHA—Texas was 39-0 when leading after eight innings heading into the opener of the best-of-three College World Series Finals against Louisiana State. But the Longhorns could not hold a two-run, ninth-inning lead Monday, as LSU stormed back to tie the game on D.J. LeMahieu’s two-run double, then won it 7-6 on Mikie Mahtook’s RBI single in the 11th.
“That was probably the most courageous, never-say-die, just resilient effort that I’ve ever seen out of one of my teams in 27 years of coaching,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. “I thought it was one for the ages.”
Texas and LSU traded hard blows all night in an intense, back-and-forth classic that was the longest ever (by innings) in the CWS Finals. LSU struck first on Ryan Schimpf’s solo homer in the first inning, but Texas answered with three solo home runs in the fourth.
LSU responded by tying the game on Jared Mitchell’s two-run homer in the sixth, and Texas answered again with two runs in the bottom of the frame, one of them on Russell Moldenhauer’s second solo homer of the game.
LSU got back within a run on LeMahieu’s solo homer to center in the seventh, and Texas answered yet again with a fifth solo homer, this one off the bat of Connor Rowe. LSU senior righthander Louis Coleman, a first-team All-American, allowed all five Texas homers and all six Texas runs, but he never allowed the Longhorns to break the game open.
“I went out to the mound and said to him, ‘At least they’re solo home runs. Keep giving up solo home runs and we’ll stay in striking distance,’” Mainieri said. “I told my hitters, ‘We’re going to have to hit if we’re going to win tonight,’ because it was a hitter’s environment.”
Texas sophomore righty Chance Ruffin did a better job keeping LSU’s bats in check. He had allowed just one run and struck out 10 when Texas coach Augie Garrido pulled him with runners on the corners and two outs in the sixth. Ruffin had thrown just 87 pitches, but Garrido wanted lefthander Austin Wood to face the lefthanded-hitting Mitchell, who proceeded to line a two-run triple into the left-center field gap.
“My calf was cramping whenever Mahtook came up (and struck out, the batter before Mitchell’s triple), but that’s not what took me out of the game,” Ruffin said. “I was feeling fine—I was going to fight through it, but I never got asked how I was feeling. It was just a decision that was made.”
Wood settled down and allowed just one more run over the next 2 2/3 innings, but Garrido was faced with another decision with one out and one on in the ninth. He opted to summon his scheduled Game Two starter, freshman righty Taylor Jungmann, to pitch to righthanded hitters Derek Helenihi and Tyler Hanover, but Jungmann could not find the strike zone. He threw six straight balls and was yanked in favor of freshman righty Austin Dicharry, who struck out Hanover but allowed LeMahieu’s game-tying double on a first-pitch changeup a batter later.
“I think when you get in environments that are a lot different than where you’ve been—(Jungmann) hasn’t pitched in that role too many times, but he has been one of our best pitchers, and at the bottom of the order with righthanded hitters, I felt confident that what happened would not happen,” said Garrido, who also added that he will still start Jungmann on Tuesday. “But I put him in a situation he was not comfortable with, so it’s more my fault than his.
“In hindsight, the decisions that I made in managing the pitching did not work out.”
When Dicharry loaded the bases with one out in the 10th, Garrido made a pitching change that worked out better. He brought in hard-throwing righthander Brandon Workman, who struck out Helenihi and Hanover on curveballs in the dirt to escape the jam unscathed.
But Texas could not generate any offense over the final three innings against LSU freshman closer Matty Ott, who worked three hitless, scoreless innings to pick up the win.
Meanwhile, LSU just kept the pressure on Texas. With runners on first and third and two outs in the 11th, Mahtook got a chance to be the hero. Early on, Mahtook was nearly taken out of the game by cramps, but he received intravenous fluids between innings and battled through it. He struck out chasing sliders in his first three-at bats against Ruffin, and he hit into an inning-ending double play in the eighth.
“That was pretty frustrating,” Mahtook said. “My first three at-bats, it wasn’t just like I struck out. It was three terrible at-bats—I was chasing balls in the dirt, they weren’t good at-bats. The next at-bat, I stayed back on a changeup and bounced into a double play. The older guys made sure I kept my head up; Jared Mitchell told me, ‘Your next at-bat you’re going to get another chance to get a big hit, so don’t give up, man.’”
Mahtook did single in the 10th, but his bigger hit came in the 11th, when he stayed back on a 76 mph Workman curveball and hit a line drive to center to drive in LeMahieu with the winning run.
For Mahtook and Ott, freshmen who grew up rooting for LSU, coming up big on the grandest stage in college baseball was a dream come true. Now the Tigers are just one win away from winning their sixth national championship.
“I think they understand that we haven’t won anything yet,” Mainieri said. “I’ve been drilling it into their heads: We haven’t played for the national championship yet. Everybody kept saying, ‘You’re playing for the national championship.’ No we didn’t. We needed to win a game before we were playing for the national championship. Now, we’re playing for the national championship. Wow. Those are pretty cool words, actually.”