By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
OMAHA, Neb. — When a program has six national championships and has visited Omaha enough times to call the Mecca of college baseball “Alex Box North,” it’s not often they get to be perceived as the underdog.
But that’s precisely how LSU (50-18) is viewed heading into the sport’s final four, needing to beat an Oregon State (56-4) team that’s lost four times all season twice in order to advance to the College World Series Finals.
LSU’s first crack at a rematch with the mighty Beavers will come Friday at 2 p.m. at TD Ameritrade Park, and they’re relishing the opportunity.
“That’s fine, call us the underdog,” shortstop Kramer Robertson, LSU’s still-blonde-haired leader, said before the team practiced Thursday. “We don’t get to play that role very often, so I’m down. I’m totally fine with people not expecting us to win.”
One thing is for sure: it hasn’t been a tournament for the underdogs thus far. As LSU stat guru Todd Politz pointed out Thursday, the five national seeds that made it to Omaha are the last clubs left standing.
Chalk has dominated the College World Series to this point, with the higher-seeded team winning each of the first nine games.
Regardless of what happens in game 10 on Thursday night, LSU has its mind set on reversing that trend.
To do so the Tigers will need to mentally flush a 13-1 drubbing at the hands of Oregon State on Monday night, a game LSU has chalked up as an aberration compounded by Eric Walker’s early exit due to injury and a rash of uncharacteristic walks and errors.
“We don’t believe anybody in the country is 12 runs better than us,” Robertson said. “That should give us confidence, knowing how bad we did play. We’ll have a chance as long as we go out there and execute well and don’t give them anything.”
Baseball is a fluky game by nature, but no matter which two teams are playing, the man on the mound is the great equalizer.
For LSU, that’ll be ace Alex Lange on Friday.
“I’m ready to go,” Lange said. “I’m excited for this opportunity. This is a good team. It’s a team I’ve wanted to pitch against all year being No. 1 in the nation. So it’s going to be fun.”
His task, in addition to quieting on the nation’s deepest lineups, will be to emulate the lengthy performance Jared Poche’ gave LSU on Wednesday night and keep a shorthanded bullpen fresh enough for a potential winner-take-all game Saturday.
“When you have a thinner bullpen then we’d like to have,” Lange began, “you take responsibility for going deep in the game so the bullpen doesn’t have to stretch itself too thin.”
Step one, as it almost always is, will be throwing strike one. Lange is at his best when he gets ahead in the count and can get hitters to chase that nasty swing-and-miss curveball.
LSU pitchers issued 12 walks and hit a batter against this same Oregon State club on Monday night. Needless to say, the Tigers won’t survive to see Saturday if Lange and whoever follows him hands out anywhere close to that many free passes.
“You can’t beat base on balls,” LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn said. “It’s just impossible.”