Beating LSU twice is not easy. Just ask Arkansas.
LSU became the first team to advance into next week’s best-of-three national championship series by eliminating Arkansas, 14-5, Friday in the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium. Not even a two-hour, 30-minute rain delay could save the Razorbacks from the inevitable as they fell to their SEC rival for the second consecutive time at the CWS and fourth time this season.
LSU (54-16) flicked aside Arkansas (41-24) with a dominating all-around performance, combining power with precision. Ryan Schimpf, Blake Dean, Jared Mitchell and Tyler Hanover smacked home runs and pitcher Anthony Ranaudo bounced back from his shortest outing of the season with six scoreless innings as the Tigers pushed their winning streak to 13 games.
The margin of victory tied LSU’s second-largest in CWS history.
“The team’s doing a great job and we’re peaking at the right time,” Schimpf said.
LSU is 8-0 in the NCAA Tournament heading into Monday’s championship opener against Texas, a 4-3 winner over Arizona State in Friday’s second game. LSU is seeking its first CWS title since 2000 and sixth overall; Texas is chasing its third national title this decade — 2002 and 2005 — and seventh in program history.
The Tigers will enter well-rested and Bayou-hot.
Undefeated in three games at the CWS, LSU beat Arkansas on three days rest and has an additional two days off to prepare for the finals. The Tigers are hitting .368 and averaging 10.7 runs per game in Omaha, Neb., scoring at least nine runs in each of their wins. They also have smacked 14 home runs in the NCAA Tournament — nine in the CWS — to push their season total to 103. LSU homered in three straight innings to break open the game against the Razorbacks.
“A lot was made and being asked about the long layoff,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We just treated it like a weekend series without any midweek games. We had three good practices and those guys were chomping at the bit to play someone in another colored uniform.”
The Tigers could do no wrong against the Razorbacks. They led 1-0 in the top of the first and never looked back, scoring runs in six of nine innings. Twelve different players had hits, 10 scored runs and nine had at least one RBI. Schimpf led the 16-hit assault with three hits, punctuated by his team-best 21st home run.
Ranaudo (11-3), meanwhile, dominated the Razorbacks, needing only 78 pitches — 59 strikes, 19 balls – to get through six innings following his worst outing of the season in LSU’s opening victory against Virginia. Ranaudo was knocked out of that game with one out in the fourth inning and the bases loaded.
“I had a bad outing last time,” Ranaudo said.
“I didn’t have good command and that’s what gets you into trouble. Today (Friday) I pounded the zone early and the offense scored early and gave me time to relax and go out and compete.”
The Razorbacks were without starting shortstop Ben Tschepikow, who broke the ring finger on his glove hand during an at-bat in Wednesday night’s 4-3, 12-inning win over Virginia. His absence forced Arkansas to shuffle its defense. The Razorbacks also handed the ball to senior closer Steven Richards, a lefty making his first start of the season and just the second of his career. No. 1 pitcher Dallas Keuchel had to work the last four innings against Virginia and was available only if the game’s outcome was on the line.
Richards lasted two innings and allowed four runs, two earned. The Razorbacks used eight pitchers, and combined there were 13 pitchers in the game. Both marks tied a CWS record for pitchers used in a game. The Razorbacks may have run out of juice, too, after it had to grind out a tense win over the Cavaliers two days earlier. Arkansas, however, refused to make excuses, instead crediting its fellow SEC member.
“LSU was just too strong, and we didn’t have enough to hold them down,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Ranaudo was too good. He threw a lot better today than his first time out.”
Home runs accounted for all of Arkansas’ runs against the Tigers – a two-run shot from Brett Eibner, who finished with three hits, in the seventh and a three-run blast from Chase Leavitt in the ninth. Arkansas was outscored 23-6 by LSU in two CWS games and has scored only nine runs in the last 36 innings versus LSU.
In fact, teams haven’t had much luck with second chances against LSU. The Tigers are 32-7 in 2009 when facing an opponent for a second time or more. The only SEC team that beat LSU twice this season was Tennessee, which also stuck the Tigers with their only back-to-back losses.
In 10 SEC series this season, LSU lost the opener three times and bounced back to win the final two games each time. Eight times the series went to a rubber game and the Tigers won seven of those. Arkansas doesn’t want to see LSU any time soon. The Tigers went 4-1 against the Razorbacks this season and have won 13 of the last 16 games against the Razorbacks.
Now they can turn their attention to the CWS finals.
“I think it’s tough to beat us right now the way we’re pitching and hitting,” Dean said.