On Campus From Omaha: Hess Emerging As LSU Folk Hero

OMAHA—Righthander Zack Hess was one of the prized players in Louisiana State’s fourth-ranked recruiting class last fall, and he has taken on a sizable role as a freshman. On Wednesday in an elimination game against Florida State in the College World Series, he delivered one of the most electric performances of his young career.

Hess came out of the LSU bullpen in the ninth inning after Florida State knocked starter Jared Poche’ out of the game with back-to-back solo home runs. He wasted no time ending the Seminoles’ rally, striking out three of the four batters he faced to close out the Tigers’ 7-4 victory.

“You just want to go in there and get the job done as quick as you can,” Hess said. “Our guys played an awesome game.”

Hess ran his fastball up to 98 mph and mixed in a devastating breaking ball. Poche’ said the contrast between his mid-80s fastball and Hess’ stuff made it even tougher on hitters.

“You see 84 from the left side, next thing he comes in 97 from the right side,” Poche’ said. “It’s a hard speed for the hitters to get.

“He’s a big part of why we’re here today. He’s stepped up ginormous for us, and we couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Hess ranked No. 167 on the BA500 last year and was drafted in the 35th round by the Yankees, but held firm in his commitment to LSU. He started six games early in the season but has settled into a role at the back of the Tigers bullpen and is 7-1, 2.78 with 76 strikeouts in 55 innings this season.

Hess has thrived in the bullpen, where he can air out his powerful fastball and where his demeanor works well. With his big fastball and lights-out results, he is beginning to take on folk-hero status, with outings like Wednesday only fueling the fire.

“If there’s a legend brewing here, then so be it,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “He’s outstanding. And obviously he’s having a major impact on the success of our team.”

New and notes from around the CWS

Florida State: The Seminoles’ season came to a close with Wednesday’s loss, ending a remarkable run over the last month. Florida State went into the final weekend of the regular season on the NCAA Tournament bubble but ran off 12 wins in 13 games to make it to the CWS for the 22nd time in program history. Shortstop Taylor Walls said that fighting spirit is what he will remember the most about this season. “Being a team who everyone was looking forward to playing on the weekends to being a team that everyone hoped they didn’t play at the end of the season,” he said. “To come out and start out slow and everyone start doubting you at the beginning of the season, but the way we battled back, just shows the fight and that we never give up.” . . . Senior DH Quincy Nieporte led off the ninth inning with a home run in the final at-bat of his college career. “Individually, it’s nice to go out on top like that,” he said. “But, I mean, we’re all still hurting a little bit right now just because we really believed that this was the team, and we’re kind of shocked that someone was able to knock us out just because of how much fight we’ve shown.” Nieporte, who was drafted by the Phillies in the 26th round, finished the night 1-for-2 with a walk.

LSU: After feeling they had played uptight in the first two games in Omaha, the Tigers tried to shake things up with some crazy hairstyles. Most notable was shortstop Kramer Robertson bleaching his hair blonde and Hess adopting the Wild Thing haircut sported by Rick Vaughn in “Major League.” The wild hairstyles were a one-time occurrence, however. “It did its job today,” Robertson said. Mainieri is not a fan of the hair styles, and Robertson spent the day hiding his new hair color from his coach. “He told me he was wearing a hood around all day so I wouldn’t see him,” Mainieri said. “When I saw it in the dugout, my eyes were as big as grapefruits. But I didn’t say anything to him until after the game.” . . . Mainieri will often talk to a batter before he goes to the plate, and he did so with freshman Jake Slaughter before his first plate appearance Wednesday. Slaughter was headed to the plate with runners on the corners and two outs in the second. LSU had already scored twice in the inning, once coming on a safety squeeze bunt. “He came up to me and said he wants me to drive these runs in, not try another squeeze,” Slaughter said. “And I just wanted to go out there and get the job done.” Slaughter did just that, driving a three-run homer to left.

Oregon State: The Beavers have not settled on a starter for Friday’s bracket final game against LSU. Coach Pat Casey said Oregon State will start either righthander Jake Thompson, a first-team All-American, or righthander Drew Rasmussen, the 31st overall pick of the draft. Thompson (14-0, 1.84) started the Beavers’ first game of the CWS, giving up five runs on three hits and three walks in 3.2 innings against Cal State Fullerton. Rasmussen (3-0, 0.79) came out of the bullpen to earn the save against Fullerton, striking out two batters in a perfect ninth. . . Oregon State tweaked its lineup to great effect in its first game against LSU. The Beavers moved Trevor Larnach to right field, allowing Tyler Malone to play DH. Larnach went 2-for-3 with two walks and three RBIs, while Malone went 1-for-3 with two walks and two runs. “I wish I could tell you it was a stroke of genius, but it really was we thought we needed to be as good offensively as we could against LSU,” Casey said. “We really have a tone of respect for what they can do offensively and we just thought we needed to score some runs.”

ESPN: Viewership of the CWS has risen significantly this year, with the first six games averaging 923,000 viewers on TV and streaming. The audience through six games is the highest since 2011 and the third highest since 1994, when ESPN’s records begin. . . New Orleans is the highest-rated local market through the first six games with a 7.1 local rating. Louisville (2.8) and Portland, Ore., (2.1) follow.

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