By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
OMAHA, Neb. — The Rally Beach Ball will now go down in its own weird little piece of LSU lore.
Trailing Florida State 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth in its College World Series opener, LSU seemingly got an assist from the heavens as a beach ball fluttered into right field, causing a momentary delay.
Antoine Duplantis then singled to right, and that same right fielder who’d deftly fielded the inflatable ball proved unable to handle the smaller leather one. His two errors and one more on a dropped throw at the plate allowed Cole Freeman to score the tying run from first base.
Greg Deichmann then singled through the drawn-in infield to bring home the go-ahead run as LSU won its all-important College World Series opener, 5-4, in stunning, come-from-behind fashion at TD Ameritrade Park on Saturday night.
“We took advantage of a couple of misplays by them, and it was a little bit of a bizarre game,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I thought that our team really didn’t play that great, but somehow we still found a way to win, which is encouraging for us.”
This marks five come-from-behind victories in six games during LSU’s NCAA Tournament run. It wasn’t the most improbable, but perhaps the strangest, with LSU scoring runs from first base on a strikeout and a routine single at different points in the game.
Both Freeman and Duplantis could have — and perhaps should have — been thrown out on the play, but FSU right fielder Steven Wells’ wild throw into second set the marry-go-round in motion. Freeman, who hesitated, then broke for the plate. He’s have been dead to rights if catcher Cal Raliegh had squeezed a hurried throw home.
“A win is a win, baby” shortstop Kramer Robertson said. “It doesn’t have to be pretty. It wasn’t. We didn’t play our best game; not even close. We didn’t play well at all, but we found a way. We’re never out of it as long as we’ve still got outs to play with on the scoreboard.
Duplantis was in the middle of it all. He alertly scored all the way from first base on a passed ball when Deichmann struck out in the first inning. He singled home a run with a clutch two-strike, two-out knock in the third and scored the game-winning run.
It’s the first time LSU has won its opener in Omaha since 2009, when the Tigers went on to win the national championship. The Tigers will face No. 1 seed Oregron State in a winner’s bracket contest Monday night, with the winner earning a bye into Friday.
Florida State, which led throughout behind ace Tyler Holton, will face Cal State Fullerton Monday afternoon in a hard-luck elimination game. The Titans surrendered a 5-1 lead to Oregon State to drop the early game 6-5 Saturday.
That’s 39 games of cumulative win streak between LSU and Oregon State. It’ll be the first time in tournament history that two teams riding 15-plus-game winning streaks meet in Omaha. The Tigers will be the home team by virtue of a coin flip victory.
Jared Poche’ deserves a lion’s share of the credit, coming out of the bullpen with 2.2 innings of shutout relief to buy LSU enough time to rally and pick up the victory. Zack Hess came on and struck out FSU slugger Dylan Busby, who’d already driven in three runs, with the tying and go-ahead runs on base.
“I don’t know who else you’d want on the mound,” Freeman said of his fellow senior. “And if there is anybody else you want on the mound, you’d bring in Zack Hess because he’s just absolutely light’s out. It’s crazy to think he’s a freshman.”
Poche’ tied the all-time LSU career victories record with No. 38 in a purely Poche’ fashion.
“It’s unbelievable,” Poche’ said of the record. “Honestly I’ve been thinking about it all year and wanted to get it these last two weeks. I guess God had a better plan and wanted it to happen in Omaha. I definitely didn’t think it was going to happen with me coming out of the bullpen, but it made it more exciting.”
For seven innings it seemed LSU was bound to spend a third straight College World Series in the loser’s bracket.
LSU ace Alex Lange wasn’t shelled, but a relentless Florida State offense made him work and continued to chip away as the game went on. He was chased after six-plus innings having allowed four runs on seven hits and four walks while striking out eight.
Florida State took the early lead as Lange got off to an inauspicious start for the third start in a row. Taylor Walls led off the game with a walk and then Busby hit an absolute bomb of a two-run home run to straightway center field to put the Seminoles ahead.
LSU got one run back in rather bizarre fashion in the bottom of the frame. Duplantis worked a two-out walk and motored all the way home from first base on a strike three wild pitch in a wild precursor of things to come.
The top of the Florida State order did more damage in the third. Walls doubled to right-center field and Busby brought him home with a single up the middle. Lange then bared down, picking up back-to-back strikeouts to leave men on the corners and limit the damage.
Another leadoff walk of Walls came around to score in the fifth. Walls scored on an infield single deep in the shortstop hole from Quincy Nieporte.
A well-turned 4-6-3 double play prevented more damage, and LSU once again answered back immediately. Papierski crushed the first pitch of the next inning for a no-doubt solo shot to left, carrying the LSU bullpen located behind the fence.
“That got us back in the game,” Mainieri said.
The Seminoles put the leadoff man on against Lange six times in seven innings. Mainieri hooked him after Lange hit the Florida State No. 9 hitter with a 0-2 fastball to begin the seventh.
Poche’ came on for a rare relief appearance and got out of trouble with help from his defense. Nick Coomes made a nifty stretch for the first out and then a strong return throw to complete a 5-3-5 double play. LSU turned double plays to end the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
That bought LSU another chance at pulling even, as Coomes walked and Papierski singled to put the tying run in scoring position in the seventh. Jordan grounded into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play to extinguish the threat.
Poche’ gave LSU two scoreless innings, setting the stage for the strangest rally yet in an LSU run full of them. Freeman started it with a infield single banked off Holton, and as it has so often, it just snowballed from there.
“We’ve been in a lot of pressure situations,” Freeman said. “We’ve played in front of that type of crowd all year and the moment never gets too big for us. We rose up and got it done.”