By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
OMAHA, Neb. — The Tigers are two wins from a national championship.
LSU completed an improbable run through the loser’s bracket by overpowering Oregon State, 6-1, to reach the College World Series Finals at TD Ameritrade Park on Saturday afternoon.
That makes three wins in four days for the Tigers and two in as many days over a club that’d lost four times all season before Omaha. Oregon State hadn’t lost back-to-back games all year and was in the driver’s seat after routing LSU 13-1 on Monday night.
All of that felt like a distant memory on Saturday afternoon.
“This team has no quit,” shortstop Kramer Robertson said. “A lot of people jumped ship. A lot of teams would fold and think it was too much of a tall task. A lot of teams would’ve believe, but we did. A lot of people are going to be jumping back on the bandwagon. That’s fine. We’ll let them back on.”
LSU rammed it down the throats of the nation’s unanimous No. 1 team with power hitting and power pitching.
Catcher Mike Papierski ignited the fire, becoming the first player in College World Series this millennium to homer from both sides of the plate in one game. He drove in four runs to power the victory.
“I put some good swings on fastballs today. And after that the wind helped a little bit,” Papierski said. “But that wasn’t the highlight of the game. It was Caleb Gilbert.”
Gilbert, pressed into the starting rotation by Eric Walker’s injury, fired 7.1 unbelievable innings of two-hit ball, pitching the game of his career on the biggest of stages. His previous career-long was 5.2 innings in the super regional.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri told reporters that he’d hoped Gilbert would give him four-or-five innings before the game. Then he planned to divvy up the game between Jared Poche’, Nick Bush and Hunter Newman to bridge the gap between Gilbert and phenom closer Zack Hess.
“I wish I could tell you that I went to bed last night dreaming that he’d give us seven shutout innings on one hit,” Mainieri said. “I couldn’t even have dreamt that, but he did it.”
Gilbert turned over a five-run lead to Hess in the eighth inning for safe keeping. Hess, a bit fatigued, allowed two baserunners in the ninth before closing out the victory.
The Tigers now await the winner of Saturday’s TCU-Florida grudge match to find out who they’ll face in the best-of-three finals set to start Monday night. LSU will be looking for its seventh College World Series title against a foe in search of its first.
Just like the first two legs of this three-game run, LSU ceased control early by putting up yet another crooked second inning number.
Josh Smith drew a two-out walk and Beau Jordan doubled to left. Then, with a base open, Oregon State right-hander Bryce Fehmel grooved a 3-1 offering to Papierski that he crushed for a three-run shot to right.
“Once things got going, we didn’t stop,” Jordan said.
The Tigers tacked on another run in the third. Robertson drew a leadoff walk and Antoine Duplantis singled him home to knock Fehmel out of the game.
Meanwhile, Gilbert came out firing.
Knowing the opponent’s tendency for patience at the plate, the sophomore took advantage of a liberal strike zone, getting five called strike threes while retiring the first 11 batters of the game.
When he ran into a bit of trouble, a two-on, two-out jam in the fourth, Gilbert induced a harmless grounder to short to escape unscathed. Papierski then homered from the right side of the plate in the bottom half of the inning to push the lead to five runs.
The junior became the first LSU player to homer twice in a College World Series game since Brad Cresse in 1998 and the first player ever to do so at TD Ameritrade Park. He’s the first LSU player to homer from both sides of the plate in any game since Todd Linden in 2001.
Gilbert kept on rolling, and LSU kept on homering. Beau Jordan added on another run with a solo shot to left in the bottom of the sixth inning off Drew Rasmussen, the first-round pick who most thought would start Saturday.
Oregon State third baseman Michael Gretler got that run back with a solo home run in the seventh that chased Gilbert from the game, but it wouldn’t be nearly enough.
LSU will practice Sunday before beginning the championship series on Monday at 6 p.m.
“One of the two teams that’re going to be playing are going to win it all,” Mainieri said. “My attitude is it might as well be us.”