Postseason baseball means doing a lot of things well, and at the top of that list are dominate from mound, play rock-solid defense and come through in the clutch at the plate.
When top-ranked LSU and No. 16 Oregon State squared off Saturday in the swing game of the Baton Rouge Regional, the Tigers checked two of the three off their list. And even though ace Kevin Gausman wasn’t his normal dominant self, he was still tough as nails when he had to be.
Meanwhile, the Beavers couldn’t consistently do any of those things and now they have a lot of work to do.
LSU pieced together a pair of early two-run innings and played flawless defense and that was enough for Gausman to weather some choppy waters and find his groove as the Tigers churned to a 7-1 victory at Alex Box Stadium.
Now the Tigers (45-16) are one win away from advancing to the Super Regional Round for the first time since 2009. They’ll play at 6:30 p.m. Sunday against the winner of an elimination game between the Beavers (39-19) and UL-Monroe (32-29), which stayed alive by clipping Belmont 6-3 earlier Saturday.
OSU and the Warhawks meet at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Those teams both have to win three games to overtake LSU, which has advanced all 12 times in its NCAA history when it has won the first two games of a regional.
“It was such a good team victory,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. “It was kind of a weird game. … We just kind of grinded our way through (Saturday) and got ourselves a victory.”
Most of the necessary offensive work for LSU came in the second and third frames when a blend of timely hitting and effective execution.
Ty Ross got lit the fuse in the second when he rammed a single to second baseman John Tommasini, who nearly smothered the hot shot but couldn’t come up with the ball cleanly. Grant Dozar whipped a 1-and-2 offering from OSU started Dan Child into center field and both runners scooted up a base on Alex Edward’s sacrifice bunt. Tyler Hanover rolled out to shortstop and Ross rumbled home for the game’s first run.
After Arby Fields reached on a hit-by-pitch, Austin Nola came up and rifled a two-out single to left field to score Dozar for a 2-0 advantage.
The third inning was very similar, as the Tigers answered the Beavers’ one run in the top of the inning.
Mason Katz got drilled in his left elbow to begin the at-bat and Raph Rhymes zapped a base hit into left field. Those two hustled up on a wild pitch, and Ross smoked a ground ball to the right side that Tommasini got to this time, but Katz dashed home and Rhymes moved to third base. Dozar fisted a bloop single just over the shortstop to score another run for a 4-1 lead.
|Grant Dozar: 20-for-4 with a run and an RBI|
“(Saturday) the whole lineup made it a point to have tough at-bats,” said Dozar, who joined Nola and Ross with two hits to anchor LSU’s efficient eight-hit output. “Guys came through with some big hits and got that run in from third base with less than two outs. We did that really well (Friday).”
Meanwhile, the Beavers (39-19) couldn’t scratch out much of anything despite countless early chances against Gausman.
There were perpetually runners on base in the first four OSU at-bats, and Gausman had to rely on pitches other than a crackling fastball generally clocked in the mid- to high 90 mph range.
The only problem? All but one of those Beaver runners stayed on base as they squandered several early chances.
Gausman gritted out a rocky beginning when he allowed six hits in the first four innings and endured eight innings on the way to his 11th victory of the season.
Oregon State put two or more runners on base in three of those first four frames, but stranded seven and was 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Ryan Dunn produced the Beavers’ only run when he pumped a single – the third in a row with two outs in the third inning – into right field to score Michael Conforto.
That was it, though. Gausman found what he needed whenever Oregon State got runners in scoring position and retired eight of the nine hitters who stepped in with a chance to drive in a run in the first five frames.
“When you get your opportunities with guys on base, you’ve got to put the ball in play,” Beavers’ coach Pat Casey said. “We just couldn’t get a hit when we needed it, and that had something to do with him, too.”
Gausman was quick to credit the Beavers, who stayed patient and made the LSU ace run his pitch count up early. He wound up throwing a season-high 129 pitches.
|Kevin Gausman: 8 gritty innings of work on the way to his 11th victory.|
“I didn’t have my normal command,” Gausman said after striking out a season-low three batters and walking three. “It was something I had to fight the entire night. … I give all the credit to (OSU). They didn’t chase a lot and they made me throw a lot of strikes.”
Once Gausman got through the fourth inning, though, he found a rhythm and retired 14 of the final 17 batters he faced. Only one more runner got into scoring position in the final four innings – three vs. Gausman and one against Nick Goody, who logged a 1-2-3 ninth.
OSU pitcher Dan Child never found a similar groove.
Besides surrendering the twin two-run innings, Child also never recorded a 1-2-3 inning.
“I didn’t have my best stuff (Saturday),” Child said. “Coming out against a really good LSU, you can’t leave the ball up."
The normally solid OSU defense also broke down in the sixth when third baseman Ryan Dunn threw high on a routine ground ball off Hanover’s bat to begin the frame. Fields laid down a nice bunt to the right side that Camp tried to scoop up but couldn’t for another error. Those two gaffes were the Beavers’ first in nine games.
Combined with three wild pitches and three hit batters, the bottom line was hard for Casey to digest.
“You win with pitching and defense and that hurt us (Saturday),” Casey said.
It hurt in the sixth when Nola scorched a grounder through the middle that Camp gloved but Tommasini wound up making the play. With runners at second and third, JaCoby Jones struck out swinging vs. reliever Dylan Davis, but the ball skirted away from the catcher. Hanover tried to score, but was tagged out at the plate for the second out.
Moments later, Davis uncorked a wild pitch and Fields darted home for a 5-1 LSU lead.
The Tigers’ pushed two more runs home in the eighth inning when Fields got plunked with two outs, swiped second and cruised home on Nola’s triple over the center fielder’s head. Nola motored home on a wild pitch.
Now LSU finds itself in a familiar position: The driver’s seat.
In 25 regional appearances, the Tigers have won their first two games and then advanced to the next round each time.
“It’s always good to win two early in the regional,” Dozar said. “It puts a lot of stress on those other teams having to play in the heat of the day and having to play that doubleheader.”
Which is where OSU finds itself. Sophomore left-hander Ben Wetzler (7-2, 3.39 ERA) will get the ball for the Beavers against ULM. The Warhawks are expected to start right Shelby Aulds (3-2, 4.77).
When LSU takes the field, sophomore right-hander Ryan Eades (5-2, 3.36) will man the mound.
Safe at home
NCAA REGIONAL: Day 2
LSU 4, ULM 1: Doubling up and moving on