UPDATED: LSU still feels confident despite dropping opener to Florida
Tigers fall 4-3 in opener, but tables turn now
OMAHA, Neb. — For a coach who will face elimination for the fourth time in this year’s College World Series, LSU’s Paul Mainieri was feeling pretty good.
The Tigers lost to Florida 4-3 Monday night to put them on the brink, but it’s not so far-fetched for them to keep thinking about a seventh national championship.
“I said going into the game, it was a tough matchup for us,” Mainieri said. “We knew that. Going forward tomorrow, our kids, they’re confident.”
Mainieri’s semi-gamble to give Jared Poché an extra day’s rest with a “Johnny Wholestaff” approach almost paid off.
Now it’s Florida’s move.
After piece-mealing the mound work together Monday, LSU now will have its top two starters for the next game (or two) and, on paper, the Tigers shouldn’t see another Florida pitcher like Brady Singer.
“I think that guy will be the first pick in the draft (next year) and we were having to piece it together with our bullpen guys,” Mainieir said.
“It’s amazing we were right there and made it that close.”
The tables will turn now.
The Gators will have to dig a little deeper for pitching, with head coach Kevin O’Sullivan saying he’ll likely to go tonight with Tyler Dyson, who will be making just his second start of the season and has thrown just 33 innings. The Gators’ ace, first-round pick Alex Faedo, isn’t expected to be available for the championship series for anything more than a token appearance after pitching Saturday.
LSU should be in much better shape from here on out.
Poché, the all-time Tiger wins leader will start tonight and if the Tigers can force a deciding Game 3, ace Alex Lange will be there to start Wednesday.
“We don’t think this series is over by a long shot,” Mainieri said. “Hopefully we can have a little more luck on our side tomorrow.
“It’s definitely not over,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve got to play better. We had only six hits. We have a freshman going tomorrow against LSU’s winningest pitcher.”
LSU almost got away with what looked like a pitching mismatch for the opener.
But an otherwise clutch performance by emergency starter Russell Reynolds was spoiled by a familiar bugaboo from the lower end of the bullpen.
Three of the four runs the Gators scored reached base via the three straight one-out walks issued by Reynolds in the fourth. That, after he’d faced the minimum while allowing two hits over the first three innings.
“Russell did a really great job,” Mainieri said. “Hindsight, I got a little greedy there and tried to get an extra inning out of him.
“I just thought, if nothing else, Russell is a strike thrower, then he walks three in a row. I’ll take the blame for that, I tried to stick with him a little too long.
“It probably would have been prudent to start the fourth with Nick Bush.”
Bush entered after Reynolds loaded the bases and gave up a sacrifice fly and a ground rule double to account for the first three runs, all charged to Reynolds.
Even with that, in a one-run game the Tigers may have given away an extra one.
Austin Langworthy’s sacrifice fly was a foul, not that deep down the leftfield line, but shortstop Kramer Robertson had to make a diving catch.
The runner on third was going to score, but when LSU didn’t cover third, the two other runners were able to advance to second and third.
“Turned out to be important because of the ground rule double,” Mainieri said. “If he’d still been on first only one run would score there.”
Bush also pitched well for 3.1 innings, allowing just one more run.
The Gators got an insurance run in the seventh after a leadoff double by Austin Langworthy, followed by a sacrifice bunt and Mike Rivera’s RBI single.
LSU didn’t get anything against Singer until the sixth, when Antoine Duplantis hit a solo home run —just his second of the season — and Beau Jordan then got his fourth RBI of the CWS with a run-scoring single to left.
LSU also got a run in the eighth when Deichmann led off with a double to finally chase Singer and later scored on Josh Smith’s single to center.
Smith, though, was thrown out trying to stretch into a double on a close, hotly disputed play.
With a patched up pitching crew, the Tigers out-hit Florida 9-6.
But mostly the Tigers struggled against Singer, who beat them 8-1 earlier this season in Gainesville.
“We went up against maybe the best pitcher in the SEC since I’ve been in the SEC,” Mainieri said. “He reminds me so much of Aaron Nola.We battled him and battled him. We had a couple of situations that maybe if we’ve been able to take more advantage of, it would have been different.”
“We had a lot of strikeouts, a lot of hits,” said Deichmann. “That’s the kind of pitcher he is. You’re either going to go up there and get your money’s worth and hammer a pitch or you going to strike out.”
“We were up against a tough one,” Mainieri said.
“He was electric,” said Duplantis.
But the Tigers, who’ve never lost a championship after reaching six previous finals, feel good about their chances this time too.
Tuesday the Gators will have to fashion a Plan B for the mound.
“It’s comforting knowing we still have Jared Poché going tomorrow, fully rested,” Mainieri said.
“We respect Florida. But we feel like we’re right there with them. nd we’ve got one of our guys going tomorrow. Jared Poché has been a warrior for us for four years.”
Florida pitcher Brady Singer (51) throws in the first inning of Game 1 of the NCAA College World Series baseball finals against LSU in Omaha, Neb., Monday, June 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Ryerson)