The leadoff double from Tre Morgan appeared to be exactly what LSU needed to unlock its 2-2 deadlock with Wake Forest.
Five innings had gone by since the last time the fifth-seeded Tigers scored and subsequently lost the grip on a two-run lead, falling into a tie with the top-seeded Demon Deacons in the bottom of the sixth of Monday’s College World Series.
Morgan doubled down the right-field line in the eighth and moved to third on an infield error off the bat of Hayden Travinksi.
LSU designated hitter Cade Beloso quickly got ahead in the count before Wake Forest relief pitcher Michael Massey forced a grounder that went to third baseman Brock Wilken.
Morgan was in “go” mode, running on contact and attempted to score on Beloso’s grounder, but not only did Wilken make a backhanded play on the ball, he went into foul territory to throw home where catcher Bennett Lee took the one-hop throw and tagged out Morgan on his right knee the first out.
Gavin Dugas followed with an inning-ending double play.
“As soon as the ball was hit, I took off,” Morgan said. “I knew he was going to have an awkward throw, so I tried to get a little bit over to get in the way. He made a great play.”
LSU challenged the play, but the call was upheld by video replay, thwarting the Tigers’ best scoring threat since the second inning, and Wake Forest pushed across the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth for a 3-2 victory.
“Great college baseball game,” LSU baseball coach Jay Johnson said. “Hats off to the pitching on both sides. They got a clutch hit there at the end and we did not.”
LSU (49-16) went quietly in the top of the ninth against Wake Forest reliever Camden Minacci, the winning pitcher, who retired the Tigers in order with a pair of strikeouts and a comebacker to the mound. The Tigers’ No. 7-8-9 batters were up in the ninth to keep hope alive but finished a combined 0-of-11 with nine strikeouts.
Minacci was part of the Demon Deacons’ relief staff that kept LSU scoreless over the final three innings of the game. They allowed only Morgan’s double, didn’t walk a batter and had nine of 13 strikeouts.
“The teams that are here, in particular the two that we’ve played, are the two of the premier pitching staffs in college baseball,” Johnson said of Tennessee and Wake Forest. “(Monday’s starter) Josh Hartle was really good. Preparing for this game, we knew he presented a challenge for this game. I thought our guys battled them pretty good. He’s really hard to square up. He executed pitches down in the zone on both sides of the plate. We put some pressure on him. It wasn’t a great night to hit with the wind blowing in and a good pitcher going. We benefitted from that early in the game, too, with Ty (Floyd).”
LSU took a 2-0 lead against Hartle in the third inning when Tommy White drove in Josh Pearson with a single to center and Morgan (2-for-4) was awarded a triple when Wake Forest left fielder Adam Cecere misplayed a ball in the sun that enabled White to score.
The Deacons turned to Cole Roland, Massey and Minacci out of the bullpen to silence the Tigers’ bats.
“They were mixing pitches really well, going in and out, executing their plan,” said Morgan, who combined with White for four of LSU’s five hits. “We were also trying our best to execute our plan. I feel like we put a lot of pressure on when we needed to. It just didn’t work out for us in the end.”
Johnson credited Massey for coming back from down 2-0 in the count to get the left-handed batting Beloso to ground out to the left side of the infield.
“I don’t know that Cade Beloso’s hit a ground ball to third base the entire season,” Johnson said. “You have to tip your hat to Massey for executing the 2-0 pitch that he did to get him to swing through and the 2-1 pitch. You have to send the runner there so we can stay out of the double play.
“It’s a heck of a play by Wilken,” Johnson added. “If it skips or it bounces off Tre’, we’re ahead 3-2 and we probably have runners at second and third. In championship environments your dudes have to be dudes and he was a dude on that tonight. Good bullpen tonight. Those guys are really tough. There’s a reason they’ve only lost 10 games all year with the starting pitching they have and the bullpen they have.”