Wake Forest ran out their No. 4 starter, Seth Keener, and appeared to be resistant to bring in reliever Sean Sullivan. Keener found himself in trouble multiple times in his 4.1 IP and he surrendered five runs. Sullivan pitched the final 3.2 innings, allowing just two hits and no runs.
The reason for the hesitancy to bring Sullivan in? Perhaps a lackadaisical approach to Wednesday’s game with a loss to spare. Instead, Wake and LSU head to a loser-goes-home game with a spot in the CWS finals on the line. Worse yet, Wake’s time in Omaha now comes directly down to a mano-y-mano battle between the teams’ aces.
Since touching down in Omaha, Wake Forest’s bats fell silent. The Deacs scored 75 runs in the Regional and Super Regional round – including 22 against Alabama in the clinching Supers game – but averaged just 2.67 runs through three games in the College World Series. All around, scoring is down from the NCAA Baseball Championship rounds (expectedly), but Wake’s drop off is stark. In the College World Series, Wake is batting under .200. Skenes allows an opposing .170 batting average.
LSU demonstrated their power Wednesday, with DH Cade Beloso hitting a third-inning home run. Dylan Crews and Tommy White both nearly sent one over the fence in their elimination game against Tennessee, but a stiff 15 mph breeze knocked those hits down. With wind being less of a factor Thursday, expect the power capability of LSU’s lineup to return.
While Lowder allows few runs, he has given up the long ball to better hitting teams. Against Maryland and Alabama this postseason, he allowed two homers each. He’s also allowed at least one home run in three of his last five starts.
But LSU has stretched its pitching staff to get through the losers bracket and force a deciding third game against Wake Forest. The only pitchers it has not used are sophomore Sam Dutton, junior Bryce Collins and junior Christian Little.
The Tigers will play their fourth game in as many days Thursday.
LSU may also be able to use sophomore Thatcher Hurd on short rest. Hurd threw 65 pitches over three innings Monday in a loss to Wake Forest. Two days later, he warmed up in the bullpen during LSU’s win against the Demon Deacons but never entered the game.
Dylan Crews singled to left leading off the bottom of the 11th against Michael Massey (3-1), prompting Demon Deacons coach Tom Walter to call on his star closer. Minacci’s first pitch to LSU’s home run leader was a 90 mph slider, and White sent it out for his 23rd homer of the year.
“I thought a heater was coming,” White said. “But I was very amped up and I saw a slider that was up. I put my bat head to it. That was about it.”
It was a fitting end to one of the most anticipated non-championship MCWS games. LSU was the consensus No. 1 team in the major polls from the start of the season until May 8. Wake Forest was the consensus No. 1 the rest of the way. The teams split their first two games here this week.
The pitching matchup between LSU’s Paul Skenes and Wake Forest’s Rhett Lowder set this one apart from the first two. The two are projected top-10 overall picks in next month’s amateur draft ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel has Skenes going fifth and Lowder going ninth in his latest mock draft and they matched zeroes deep into the game. Wake Forest came in 18-0 in games Lowder had started.
Skenes allowed two hits and walked one before turning the game over to Thatcher Hurd (7-3) to start the ninth, and his nine strikeouts made him the SEC’s single-season record holder. Skenes has 209 strikeouts in 122 2/3 innings; previous record holder Ben McDonald had 202 in 152 1/3 for LSU in 1989.
Skenes’ fastball was a tick down from Saturday, when he hit at least 100 mph 46 times against Tennessee, but it was still plenty good as were his slider and changeup.
Lowder mixed his mid-90s fastball with a sharp slider and allowed three hits, walked two and struck out six in an efficient seven innings. Of his 88 pitches, 63 were strikes.
“Paul Skenes was fantastic, and Rhett matched him pitch for pitch,” Walter said. “It was one of the best-pitched college baseball games I’ve ever seen. And Michael Massey behind him was dominant. And Hurd was, too, for LSU. Runs were hard to come by. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a way to scratch one across there those first 10 or so innings.”
It was the fourth game in MCWS history that was scoreless through 10 innings (and first since Arkansas’ 1-0 win over South Carolina in 14 innings in 1985). It also was the fourth time since aluminum bats were introduced in 1974 that both starting pitchers threw at least seven scoreless innings in an MCWS game.
Skenes was backed up by a spot-on defense, never more than in the eighth inning when Justin Johnson drew a leadoff walk and ended up on third on a wild pitch.
Johnson started running for home when Marek Houston bunted to the right side. First baseman Tre’ Morgan charged, picked up the ball and made a diving flip to catcher Alex Milazzo, who tagged Johnson for the second out.
“He showed everyone in the country he’s the most athletic first baseman out there. I saw him lay the bunt down, and Tre’ came flying in to make the play and pick me up,” said Skenes, who got out of the inning when left fielder Josh Pearson, playing shallow, caught Tommy Hawke’s liner.
Why you should back LSU
Skenes has been the best pitcher in college baseball this season and he’s been extremely tough in the NCAA Tournament. The Air Force transfer, who should be one of the top picks in the 2023 MLB Draft, has won all three starts in the tournament and has allowed just four earned runs in 23.4 innings. He’s struck out 33 batters in that span.
LSU’s bullpen has been strong in Omaha, so the Tigers have options should Skenes show any fatigue after his 123-pitch outing last Saturday. The Tigers also boast one of the most dangerous lineups in the nation, anchored by Dylan Crews and Tommy White, who both have a slugging percentage higher than 700.
This is the kind of game you dream to be in attendance for. With a trip to the College World Series national championship on the line, LSU and Wake Forest delivered an all time classic, one that the Tigers were on the right side of.
An epic pitching battle that will be remembered in Omaha for quite some time came down to the final innings, with a walk off homer to end it from Tommy White to win it 2-0.
Going in this was going to be a pitcher’s duel between two of the nation’s best pitchers. Skenes and Rhett Lowder didn’t disappoint on that front as both the LSU and Wake Forest offenses were completely shut down by both aces. Both proved why they’re likely to be top 10 picks next month in the draft.
The Tigers were clearly attacking the fastball early in the counts and just not generating much offense, keeping Lowder’s pitch count extremely low at 51 pitches through five innings. Lowder was just pumping the zone with strikes, with 37 landing for strikes as the Tigers offense just couldn’t put the ball in play.
One of the premier chances came in the sixth with a two out double from Tommy White that gave LSU just its second runner in scoring position. A rocket line drive from Tre Morgan would’ve almost certainly been enough to score White but the ball was hit right at Wake Forest third baseman Brock Wilken.
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