By Noah Darling
OMAHA, NE- The most anticipated matchup of the entire season didn’t disappoint. LSU and Wake Forest spent the entirety of the regular season at or near the top of every national ranking, causing fans to envision the Demon Deacons and Tigers dueling for a dogpile in the Men's College World Series championship series. Instead, they met in the winner’s round in Omaha on Monday night, as a pair of 1-0 teams.
After national aces Paul Skenes and Rhett Lowder pitched against Tennessee and Stanford on Saturday, respectively, Ty Floyd and Josh Hartle took the hill in front of another sellout crowd in Omaha. Floyd carried a 4.50 ERA with a 7-0 record entering Monday. LSU was 13-4 with Ty Floyd on the mound. Hartle entered the game with an 11-2 record and an ERA of 2.80.
After an efficient start for both starters, the potent LSU offense struck first, when third baseman Tommy White ripped a single to center field, scoring Josh Pearson. One of two defensive miscues in the inning for Wake Forest occurred when center fielder Tommy Hawke misplayed White’s hit, allowing him to advance to 2nd base.
It was another defensive miscue for the Deacs that allowed Tre Morgan to turn a fairly routine fly ball into a stand up triple later in that same third inning. Tommy White scored on the play, when the ball was lost in the late afternoon sun glare that often plagues the left field corner early in evening games.
LSU held on to their 2-0 lead until the bottom of the sixth, when Brock Wilken followed three walks by lining a bases loaded single up the middle, scoring Hawke. The Deacon threat was mitigated by a double play ball from Justin Johnson, but a second run crossed the plate for Wake, tying things up to end the sixth inning.
Neither Floyd nor Hartle factored in the decision, but both produced solid starts. Floyd pitched 5 innings, giving up just 2 hits, while striking out 10. Hartle pitched through the sixth, striking out 9, breaking the Wake Forest record for strikeouts in a season in the process. Wake Forest Head Coach Tom Walter commented he was “really proud of Josh Hartle and the way he battled…he settled in and got us in to the sixth inning… kept the score where it was and gave the offense time to get going”.
Wake Forest relievers Cole Roland and Michael Massey were effective in containing the LSU offense, each recording two crucial outs with Roland striking out two of the three batters that he faced.
A tension stirred in Charles Schwab Field until Deacon catcher Bennett Lee knocked a single into left field to score Danny Corona, giving Wake Forest a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the 8th inning. Lee had just made a pivotal play on defense too, tagging out Morgan at the plate, a play that prevented LSU from taking its own 3-2 lead and was upheld on review.
Deacon closer Camden Minacci slammed the door on LSU with an efficient ninth inning to secure the 3-2 victory over the Tigers and send them into a Tuesday night MCWS rematch with the Tennessee Vols, the winner taking on Wake Forest Wednesday, the loser of the elimination game heading home.
Despite the loss, the Tigers remained upbeat on the opportunity that still remains. Morgan said, “Nothing changes for us mentally, we always go out there and try one pitch at a time, we always play like it’s our last time playing the game. So, we’re gonna show up tomorrow and keep the same mentality, play like it’s our last time playing together”. Floyd added that this LSU team has “all the motivation in the world to win tomorrow”.
Tuesday will be another tough hitting and scoring test for the Tigers, against Tennessee starter Drew Beam, who LSU Head Coach Jay Johnson described as one of the best pitchers in the country. Johnson didn’t commit to who would take the bump for the Tigers, saying “We have nine guys available to pitch tomorrow, we’ll choose one of them, he’ll get guys out for as long as he can and then we’ll go to the next guy… until we figure out how to get 27 outs against a really good team”.
BOX SCORE- https://www.ncaa.com/game/6147535/boxscore