By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
OMAHA, Neb. — There was an odd feeling in the TD Ameritrade Park press box as Oregon State withheld its starting lineup even as first pitch of its winner-take-all showdown with LSU drew less than an hour away.
Then, about 45 minutes before game time, it became apparent why.
Oregon State coach Pat Casey announced his “intent” to start flame-throwing right-hander Drew Rasmussen in Saturday’s College World Series Semifinal. Only his official lineup listed right-hander Bryce Fehmel as the Beaver starter.
That breach of coaching etiquette didn’t sit well with LSU, which announced its pitching plans for the week back on Tuesday.
“You probably could say that our guys were a little ticked off,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Are they playing games with us? Are they doing something that’s somewhat disrespectful to us? Or did they have some reason why they had to change 45 minutes before game time?
“I think it made our guys very determined to make that move backfire.”
That it did.
LSU chased Fehmel in the third inning and thumped Oregon State 6-1 Saturday to eliminate the Beavers and advance into the College World Series Finals.
Fehmel has two-hit LSU for eight innings on Monday night, sending the Tigers to the loser’s bracket, but it became apparent quickly that a night of preparing for Rasmussen wouldn’t take them off their game.
Adjusting on the fly, LSU went up with a much more aggressive approach against the junk baller. Mike Papierski ambushed a grooved 3-1 fastball and mashed a three-run shot off Fehmel in the second inning and his afternoon ended not long after.
“We took it kind of personal, to be honest with you,” Mainieri said. “I don’t know if they were trying to play head games with us or not.”
Kramer Robertson received a text message from his head coach late Friday night.
Its contents: a friendly reminder that Robertson had accumulated 84 hits this season, the second-most on the team. A bit of encouragement for the senior shortstop who’d gone 1-for-18 through LSU’s first four games in Omaha.
The result: Robertson went 3-for-3, all sharp singles to left, drew a walk and scored a run to provide a spark out of the leadoff spot. He also turned in his usual brilliant defensive performance in the field.
“Sometimes even those young kids have to be reminded that they’re doing some really good thing,” Mainieri said. “So I guess now he’s got 87.”
Robertson was visibly fired up from his leadoff single in the first inning on. He flipped his bat after drawing a walk in the third inning and pumped his fist after sliding into home plate on Antoine Duplantis’ RBI single.
Due to the unsightly numbers, some theorized Mainieri may pull Robertson from the leadoff spot.
Instead the coach stuck with his senior shortstop and Robertson, who has continually harped on the amount of balls he’s hit hard in Omaha, stuck with his approach.
“Got to keep pounding away, keep swinging the bat and try to hit the ball hard,” Robertson said. “You can’t control where it goes after you hit it. If it falls, it falls. Today they did. But I didn’t do anything different.”
Pitching for the third time in four days, Zack Hess didn’t have the same electric life to his stuff that took the College World Series by storm during his first three saves.
Hess still got the job done, working the final 1.2 innings to seal the result, but it was fairly obvious that the usage had left him a bit short on gas in the tank. His fastball sat in the low-to-mid 90s and his breaking ball lacked its usual bite.
“Fatigued was probably a good way to put it,” Hess said. “But I’m just excited to pitch in the championship series.”
It’s fortunate for LSU that Caleb Gilbert pitched into the eighth inning and handed a five-run lead over to Hess, as his loss of velocity might’ve been more problematic in a tighter ballgame.
“I thought he looked a little fatigued,” Mainieri said. “He’s pitching on a lot of emotion and I’m glad he didn’t have to throw more pitches.”
The plan, Mainieri said, is for Hess to not even pick up a baseball when LSU practices Sunday and rest his arm to be available for Monday night’s opener of the College World Series Finals.