Updated: Jun 23
(photo Copyright 2023 Ivy Rose Ball)
OMAHA, NE- All season, college baseball fans longed for Wake Forest to play LSU in the Men's College World Series. Fans were lucky enough to witness their meeting in Omaha, not once, but three times. After Wake Forest defeated LSU in the first winner’s bracket game, LSU needed to defeat Tennessee before even having another crack at the Demon Deacons. LSU came all the way back, and forced a winner-take-all game in the semi-finals, with the winner advancing to the 2023 National Championship series.
The hype was palpable before Wednesday’s game to force a third meeting the following night had even ended. It meant we would likely see Paul Skenes take on Rhett Lowder for the right to play for a championship. The speculation began early, with both head coaches not tipping their hands as to who would be handed the ball in the biggest game of the season.
By the time Thursday afternoon rolled around, the whispers and rumors left little doubt. We would be seeing the two best college pitchers in America duel that night. The official announcement came around 90 minutes prior to game time. Rumors had transformed into fact, we would be seeing Skenes and Lowder on college baseball’s grandest stage.
It didn’t take long for the hype to go off the rails. Talks of game of the year or even game of the century filled social media. Such a tall order, certainly there’s no way it could live up to the bill, right? Wrong.
You will tell your children where you were when Wake Forest and LSU played June 22, 2023. The third meeting between Wake Forest and LSU in Omaha was the game of the century; and players, coaches, and fans will confirm that.
On the game, Wake Forest Head Coach Tom Walter said, “The expectations coming into this game, with that matchup, were off the charts, and both teams delivered on that. And that’s near impossible to do”. Walter is right, and LSU Head Coach Jay Johnson agreed, saying, “that was one of the greatest moments in my entire life, what happened on the field tonight”.
Paul Skenes was phenomenal for LSU, going 8 innings, giving up two hits, one walk, while striking out nine. In the process, Skenes set new LSU and SEC records for strikeouts in a single season, passing former LSU Tiger Ben McDonald, who called some of the MCWS games for ESPN and witnessed the feat in person.
Despite the controversy and discussion on social media, Jay Johnson reported that he had laid out when Paul Skenes, and other LSU arms would be taking the mound following Monday’s loss to Wake Forest. “On the white board in our meeting room, I just wrote out Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. And on Tuesday I wrote Nate’s name down with eight other pitchers. And then we just drew lines over to Wednesday…Thursday, I wrote Skenes and Hurd.”
Wake Forest starter Rhett Lowder shined just as bright, despite starting for the losing team. Lowder threw seven innings, giving up three hits, while striking out six. Lowder set a new ACC record for strikeouts in a single season during the game as well. Lowder said, “It’s an honor to be listed with the guys before me" but added that he wished teammate Josh Hartle had had the chance to break his record.
On Lowder, Head Coach Tom Walter said, “He was just out there competing and battling, matching Paul Skenes pitch for pitch… the most amazing thing is, he’s an even better kid than he is a pitcher. He’s just the kind of guy that you want to go to war with.”
A war it was, but It was Tre Morgan’s defensive heroics that will stand out to LSU fans for years to come. In the top of the 8th inning, Wake Forest had runners on the corners with just one out. Marek Houston laid down a bunt to attempt to score the first run of the game. Instead, Morgan read it the whole way and fielded it to perfection, nailing Justin Johnson at the plate with a free throw-like toss that kept the game scoreless.
And scoreless it remained, as we went into extra innings with tension able to be cut by a knife. A chess match between two head coaches, both looking for the opportunity to win their first national championship, played out into the 11th inning.
That's when NC State transfer Tommy White delivered one of the greatest moments in college baseball history for the 23,993 fans in attendance at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha. He greeted fresh reliever Camden Minacci with a two-run walk-off homer on the first pitch he saw, a true no-doubter in a park that historically isn’t fond of the long ball.
White and Minacci, among other Deacons and Tiger players, have known each other for years. White and the Wake Forest closer embraced after the game. “He’s one of my closest friends. So, I didn’t want him to feel anything (bad). I just wanted to make sure he was all right”, White said.
With White’s blast to left to end the greatest college baseball game in many years, LSU advances to meet Florida in the National Championship series beginning 6 pm Saturday. Of course, it's a rematch of the 2017 title series, when the Gators defeated LSU in two games.
BOX SCORE- https://www.ncaa.com/game/6147539/boxscore