OMAHA, Neb. — It’s finally settled. LSU truly deserves to be No. 1.
The Tigers, ranked No. 1 in the country as voted by the national polls, squandered an early lead but recovered impressively to beat No. 1 tournament seed Texas 11-4 and win the College World Series Wednesday night. LSU used a five-run sixth inning to snap a 4-4 tie and roll to its sixth national title — and first since 2000 — in Game 3 of the best-of-three national championship series.
A Rosenblatt Stadium crowd of 19,986 was treated to an entertaining showdown between two of college baseball’s most storied programs. The Longhorns, the fourth team in the seven-year history of the CWS finals to force a deciding game after losing Game 1, was looking to become the first No. 1 seed to win the tournament since Miami in 1999.
Texas (50-16-1) uncharacteristically unraveled in the top of sixth after it rallied to tie it an inning earlier. LSU (56-17) scored five times on just two hits and ruined the Longhorns’ goal of winning their seventh national title and third this decade. In that fateful sixth, Texas relievers made a throwing error, hit two batters and uncorked a wild pitch as three of the runs were unearned.
LSU first baseman Sean Ochinko, who didn’t play in Tuesday’s 5-1 defeat, was the hitting star for the Tigers. He went 4-for-5 with a two-run single in the decisive sixth and a solo home run in the ninth. Jared Mitchell, voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, hit a three-run home run in the first to start LSU off on the right foot.
The Tigers out-hit Texas 12-9.
“If there’s a better way to end it, I can’t explain it,” said Mitchell, who hit .348 with two home runs and seven RBI in the CWS. “This has been so much fun, to accomplish something like this is so special. It was everyone pulling together, a sense of urgency we had, and we began to play our best ball at the end of the year.”
It was the first national title for Paul Mainieri, whose LSU team two years ago wasn’t good enough to qualify for the SEC Tournament. LSU and Texas each have six national titles – six behind leader USC.
“I’ve dreamed my whole life of having this moment,” Mainieri said. “It’s almost surreal.”
Mainieri’s decision to save ace Anthony Ranaudo (12-3) for the game after he held him on three days’ rest on Tuesday worked — but it didn’t go exactly as scripted.
Ranaudo, a 6-foot-7 sophomore right-hander making his third start in the CWS, labored most of the game and was lifted with one out and the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Ranaudo, who was 1-0 in his previous two CWS starts with a 1.93 ERA in 9.1 innings, surrendered eight hits and threw 119 pitches. He walked five and struck out four.
Reliever Chad Jones, a promising safety on the Tigers football team, fanned the next two Texas batters in the sixth and threw a scoreless seventh. Louis Coleman, the Game 1 starter who surrendered five home runs in six innings, pitched the final two innings. He fanned three hitters in the ninth, igniting an LSU dogpile near the mound.
Texas coach Augie Garrido didn’t make any excuses and credited LSU’s character for being able to withstand the Longhorns rally.
“I don’t think we lost this tournament, they won it,” Garrido said. “We played our cards and we thought they were the right ones. It didn’t work out. They are the best team we’ve played this year, by far.”
Texas sophomore starter Cole Green, making his third CWS appearance, didn’t fare as well and lasted just two innings. Green surrendered five hits and allowed four runs, all with two outs. Green had looked good in his previous two starts, throwing seven innings against Southern Miss and six innings in a 4-3 victory over Arizona State.
Reliever Brandon Workman, who worked 1 2/3 innings and was the losing pitcher in LSU’s 7-6 win in 11 innings in Game 1 Monday, tossed three scoreless innings before running into trouble in the sixth.
Mitchell led off the inning with a walk and raced to second on a wild pitch. Mikie Mahtook, the hitting star in Monday’s victory, laced a double into right-center field to push LSU back in front, 5-4. Freshman Austin Dicharry replaced Workman, but was ineffective. He threw wildly to first base on a Micah Gibbs bunt, and Mahtook scored on Derek Helenihi’s sacrifice fly to make it 6-4.
After a ground out for the second hot, Dicharry walked DJ LeMahieu. Enter Austin Wood, who hit Ryan Schimpf to load the bases. It didn’t get any better for the Longhorns. Wood hit Blake Dean with another pitch, forcing Gibbs home from third for a 7-4 lead. Sean Ochinko delivered the big hit in the inning with a two-run single to left to make it 9-4.
“LSU answered right back and it was devastating,” Texas second baseman Travis Tucker said. “We had momentum going our way and it shifted right back. They are a great team.”
The Tigers extended its lead to 10-4 in the eighth on sacrifice fly from Schimpf and ended the onslaught with a home from Ochinko in the ninth. The Longhorns used five relievers, including Chance Ruffin, their Game 1 starter.
LSU had only lost back-to-back games once this season, losing to Tennessee at home, 7-5 and 9-4, on April 18-19. The Tigers went 15-1 after a loss, batting .328 and hitting 33 home runs during that stretch, and won 7-of-9 rubber matches in weekend series during the year. They entered the CWS as the nation’s top-ranked team and sported SEC regular-season and tournament championships. LSU was also the last SEC team to win the CWS.
Texas, meanwhile, had won the Big 12 titles in the regular season and tournament. The Longhorns recorded four comeback victories in the NCAA Tournament, including three walk-off victories in the CWS. They had hoped to become the third national champion in the past four years that rallied from a 1-0 deficit in the CWS final.
An early-afternoon rain shower helped drop temperatures from the expected mid-90s into the mid-80s for the game, which started under brilliant sunshine.
Mitchell’s 11th home run of the season staked the Tigers to a 3-0 lead in the first. With two outs, Green hit Blake Dean on the left foot and Ochinko followed with a first-pitch single to left field. On a 2-2 count, the left-handed hitting Mitchell, a first-round selection of the Chicago White Sox who had moved up a spot in the lineup for the game, hooked a home run inside the right-field foul pole.
Mitchell, a receiver on the Tigers football team, teamed with Jones to win national titles in both football and baseball at LSU. According to LSU officials, they were also the first student-athletes in NCAA history to play for a BCS national championship (2007) and participate in the CWS (2009).
After making the most of their early scoring chances in Tuesday’s victory — Texas scored all five of its runs in the first three innings — the Longhorns couldn’t duplicate that magic in their first at-bat Wednesday. Texas loaded the bases on a pair of hits by Michael Torres and Russell Moldenhauer and a two-out walk to Cameron Rupp. However, Ranaudo wiggled out of the jam as Kevin Keyes swung through a high fastball for a third strike.
LSU, again clutch with two outs, pushed its advantage to 4-0 in the second as Ryan Schimpf bounced an RBI single back up the box to score Micah Gibbs. Gibbs led off with a single, advanced to second on a ground out and, following a fly out, went to third on LeMahieu’s infield single. Texas second baseman Travis Tucker made a bare hand stop of LeMahieu’s hit behind second base but was unable to throw out the speedy LeMahieu.
Texas cut LSU’s lead to 4-2 in the third as Ranaudo struggled with his command in the third, throwing 43 pitches and pushing his total to 77.
Rupp pushed across a run on a fielder’s choice and Ranaudo walked Preston Clark on a 10-pitch at-bat with bases loaded. Ranaudo coaxed a fielder’s choice grounder for the third out, but he also had to thank center fielder Mahtook for outstanding catch earlier in the inning. Mahtook made a leaping catch in the left-center gap off the bat of Moldenhauer for the first out with runners on first and second.
Texas tied it 4-4 on Kevin Keyes’ two-run home run in the fifth. Rupp led off with a single up the middle and Keye, who left the bases loaded in the first inning, deposited Ranaudo’s first pitch into the left-field stands for his ninth home run of the season. But the Longhorns’ momentum was short-lived.
The Tigers answered with five runs in the top of the sixth to recapture the lead and the momentum.
CWS All-Tournament Team as voted by the media:
Catcher: Cameron Rupp, Texas
First Base: Dustin Ackley, North Carolina
Second Base: DJ LeMahieu, LSU
Third Base: Kyle Seager, North Carolina
Shortstop: Tyler Cannon, Virginia
Outfield: Jared Mitchell, LSU
Outfield: Ryan Schimpf, LSU
Outfield: Kole Calhoun, ASU
DH: Russell Moldenhauer, Texas
Pitcher: Anthony Ranaudo, LSU
Pitcher: Tyler Jungmann, Texas
Most Outstanding Player: Jared Mitchell, LSU