By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
OMAHA, Neb. — It’s like the age-old question of the unstoppable force against the immovable object.
On one side is LSU (49-17), winners of 17 in a row and undefeated since May 9. On the other is Oregon State (55-4), the No. 1 overall seed, winners of 22 in a row and unbeaten since April 29.
The two will square off at TD Ameritrade Park on Monday night in the first College World Series matchup in history of two clubs riding 15-plus-game winning streaks.
“Something has got to give, right?” LSU coach Paul Mainieri laughed. “I promise you were not going to tie.”
The Tigers would be the hottest team left standing if it weren’t for the downright absurdly dominant Beavers.
Led by the nation’s No. 1 pitching staff, a sterling defense and a grind-it-out, top-to-bottom lineup, Oregon State has put together a stretch of dominance rarely seen in college baseball.
Like LSU, Orgeron State earned its way into the winner’s bracket in come-from-behind fashion. The Beavers erased an early 5-1 deficit to outlast Cal State Fullerton 6-5 in their Omaha opener. LSU scored twice in the eighth to upend Florida State 5-4.
Nothing is going to come easy on Monday night, but LSU is embracing that challenge of taking on the best the sport has to offer on the game’s most hallowed ground.
“Something has got to give,” shortstop Kramer Robertson said. “Two of the best teams in the country, if not the best teams in the country. We’ll go out there and see who plays better.”
It’s into that high-pressure atmosphere LSU deploys Eric Walker, it’s baby-faced freshman of an ace in the hole.
Young as he is, Mainieri has zero reservations about giving the ball a rookie — in name only — on the game’s grandest stage.
“Walker is going to be fine,” the coach said Sunday. “He’ll get his game face on and he’ll be ready to go. Listen, he’s had two great mentors in (Alex) Lange and (Jared) Poche’ to emulate. The three of them are inseparable. He’s like the third wheel, but he’s always with them and soaking up the knowledge.
“He’s going to be fine tomorrow. I’m ultra-confident in his ability to go out there tomorrow and get the job done.”
Walker has earned that trust with unflappable poise and increasingly brilliant command as LSU’s run has turned to the postseason. He quieted a red-hot Arkansas lineup in front of 13,000 people in Hoover to capture the SEC Tournament Championship and blanked Rice to close out the Baton Rouge Regional.
After his masterpiece in Hoover, which ended with Walker walking off the mound to a standing ovation, his coach offered words of advice that proved prophetic: Get ready, because the stage will only get bigger from here.
“13,000 was pretty crazy, so 25,000, hopefully we can go out and have a good performance,” Walker said. “I remember getting chills. I didn’t know if I was going to smile or tip the cap. You don’t really prepare for that moment. So hopefully tomorrow will be the same thing.
“The fans have been really generous to me lately.”
It’s the chance to realize a life-long dream for the young Texas.
Walker has watched the College World Series every June for as long as he can remember, and even made a pilgrimage to Rosenblatt Stadium as a middle schooler to see a friend of his older brother play for TCU.
“It’s something you always dream of,” Walker said. “It’s kind of surreal.”
Any such feeling will fade by Sunday night, though. Walker told reporters that he’s got zero doubt that he’ll sleep just fine the night before the biggest in an ever growing list of big games.
That, in a nutshell, is why LSU has zero doubts about him.