OMAHA, Neb. — Survival in the College World Series isn’t about beach balls or runaway blonde possums toting a beach ball by the tail.
Often it’s simply about getting more from a player or players than they previously were able or asked to give.
LSU survived to play another day in the CWS in large part because of two players who delivered when asked: starting pitcher Jared Poche’ and first baseman Jake Slaughter.
The Tigers still face a tall task to complete the program’s annual quest: to win a seventh national championship. After turning back Florida State 7-4 here Wednesday on a hot and windy Nebraska night, they’ll still have to beat top-ranked Oregon State twice to reach the CWS championship series.
But the fact that they’re still in the game is thanks to Poche’ and Slaughter. Maybe they each deserve a game ball, or a beach ball, or a shave and a haircut. Something.
“Jared was the key to the game, obviously,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “And I’m so happy for Jake Slaughter.”
Slaughter was LSU’s starting first baseman for most of the first half of the season, but then his batting average and his confidence did a slow slide toward the bench.
Slaughter came back in to replace Nick Coomes for four starts in the NCAA regional and super regional in Baton Rouge, but that was largely because Coomes injured his thumb. Coomes started LSU’s zany 5-4 win Saturday over Florida State and its dismal 13-1 loss Monday to Oregon State. But for this game against the Seminoles, Mainieri decided to go back to Slaughter, going with his gut that he was a better matchup against fastball-throwing FSU starter Cole Sands.
Jake Slaughter blows it open early with a 3-run
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 21, 2017
Mainieri’s move to start Slaughter looked pretty clairvoyant as everyone in TD Ameritrade Park watched the pitch Jake slaughtered over the fence in left-center at the 375-foot mark, a three-run homer that suddenly put the Tigers up 5-0 in the second inning. Slaughter’s stellar play continued in the field as he stretched flat out to keep his foot on the bag while on the receiving end of a double play throw from second baseman Cole Freeman to end the Seminoles’ third.
A talented freshman with athletic bloodlines (he had a grandfather and an uncle play in the NFL), Slaughter is someone LSU could come to count on heavily in 2018 after most of its starting lineup graduates, probably at second or third base. It will be interesting to see whether Wednesday’s blast will be a launching point, a rekindling of his self-belief.
“I wanted to get the job done,” Slaughter said.
I remember being on the field during LSU’s pre-CWS practice Friday and seeing Poche’ sitting in the dugout, all alone. I wondered if he was thinking about what was soon to become common knowledge: that Mainieri decided to start freshman Eric Walker instead of Poche’ in LSU’s second CWS game. That he would be relegated to the bullpen Saturday as a backup for ace Alex Lange.
If Poche’ felt disappointment, he didn’t show it. He came on for 2.2 innings of clutch relief, bridging the gap between Lange and Zack Hess in a tense 5-4 victory.
Poche’ only threw 30 pitches in that effort, allowing him to return on three days’ rest to start against Florida State the second time.
You thought maybe the Seminoles, getting to see Poche’ for the second time in such short order, might ding and ping and walk him out of the game fairly quickly. They did get a wind-aided second-inning home run by Drew Mendoza and another run in the sixth after Dylan Busby came home after getting aboard on a Cole Freeman error, but overall Poche’ was potent. In one gritty performance, he pushed LSU to the College World Series’ final four and erased both Scott Schultz and Lane Mestepey from their lines in the LSU record book with his 39th career win and 69th career start.
“If you told me when I started I’d be in Omaha breaking the (LSU) all-time wins record, there was no way I would have believed that,” Poche’ said. “Having Kramer (Robertson) and (Alex) Bregman and all those guys behind me over the course of my career, making plays — I couldn’t have done it without those guys.”
Yeah, his night took a dent like Freeman’s bat that they took out of play early in the game with those back-to-back moonshots he allowed in the ninth, the first time that has happened in this ballpark. But clearly Mainieri was trying to conserve every pitch he could by trying to let Poche’ finish the game. Instead, he had to go to Hess for the final three outs with what Poche’ called his “Terminator” fastball (Hess hit at least 97 mph), though much later than could have been scripted.
Now the script flips back to Oregon State. For LSU to win and win again, the Tigers will probably need someone else to be the Poche’ and the Slaughter.
This article is written by Scott Rabalais from The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.