LSU’s Tommy White (47) is greeted at the plate after his game-winning home run against Wake Forest during the 11th inning of a baseball game at the NCAA College World Series in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, June 22, 2023. (AP Photo/John Peterson)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
OMAHA, Neb. – The No. 5 Louisiana State University Tigers won in dramatic fashion in the eleventh inning Thursday night with a walk-off two-run home run over the left field wall by third baseman Tommy White, sending the Tigers to the College World Series final as they beat Wake Forest University 2-0.
The LSU Tigers will play in their eighth national championship series in program history, and will face a familiar foe in Florida, who they faced in the 2017 College World Series final. LSU will play Florida on Saturday at 7 p.m. EDT on ESPN in the first game of the best-of-three championship series. The last time the Tigers won the national title was in 2009, when they beat Texas under former head coach Paul Mainieri.
“The whole year we knew we could do it. That was the primary goal — we had a meeting like January 14th or something like that, and the goal for this season was to win a national championship,” said LSU starting pitcher Paul Skenes. “And everything along the way would be a bonus. This was what we’ve had our eyes on all year. And it’s really cool to be here now.”
The Wake Forest offense left six men on base tonight during the semifinal elimination game loss.
Two of the top starting pitchers in the country squared off Thursday night at Charles Schwab Field.l Skenes and junior starting pitcher Rhett Lowder from Wake Forest University are both projected to be first round picks in the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft on July 9 in Seattle.
Lowder threw a terrific game Thursday, going seven innings and allowing three hits, walking two, and striking out six, throwing 88 pitches for a no-decision.
Skenes pitched lights out as well, throwing eight innings and allowing two hits, walking one, and striking out nine while facing 28 batters with 120 pitches.
“I think that exemplifies the talent on this roster, but more importantly, the character and the people. And as I look to my left, I just see three great players that are better people than they are players. The best pitched college baseball game I’ve ever seen from both sides,” said LSU head coach Jay Johnson.
Lowder entered last night’s game with the most wins in the country, his record at 15-0 going into the College World Series, and his ERA at 1.87 for the season.
Skenes is leading the country in strikeouts with 209, strikeouts-per-nine-innings with 15.33 and allowing 20 walks this season.
LSU relief pitcher Thatcher Hurd pitched lights out of the bullpen as he threw three innings allowing one hit, walking one batter, and striking out one.
The Wake Forest bullpen combined for three innings allowing two earned runs, two walks, and five strikeouts during Thursday’s loss.
The Wake Forest offense did not get into scoring position until the top of the fifth inning when second baseman Justin Johnson ripped a double to right center field with one out.
LSU did not have a runner reach scoring position until the bottom of the sixth inning until White hit a two out double down the right field line.
If LSU goes on to win the national championship, the biggest play of the tournament may be the run-saving flip by first baseman Tre’ Morgan to catcher Alex Milazzo in the top of the eighth.
With runners on second and third and one out, Wake Forest’s Marek Houston laid a bunt on the grass just inside the first base line. Morgan charged hard, scooped the ball and made a backhanded flip to Milazzo, who applied the tag to the Deacons’ Justin Johnson before his left hand touched the plate.
Morgan knew that he had made the play – he jumped up from the turf hatless and yelled, “Come on!” to no one in particular, letting everyone know he’d gotten his job done.
“He’s a special competitor. He’s meant so much to our team these last couple of years. And when it matters the most, that’s when you get the best,” said Johnson.
After a video review, the call was confirmed – Johnson was out.
“Bunting maybe just a little too hard. But I thought it was a pretty good bunt. Give credit to Tre’ Morgan,” said Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter. “The reality of the situation is, you could maybe hold the runner there because I don’t think they would have been able to get an out on the backside of that because of the way he crashed.”
Wake Forest relief pitcher Michael Massey held his own for the Demon Deacons, but in the eleventh inning, he gave up a leadoff single to LSU center fielder Dylan Crews.
Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter pulled Massey out of the game after 2.2 innings that saw him allowing one hit, walking one batter, and strike out five.
In came relief pitcher Camden Minacci to be the stopper in the bottom of the eleventh inning.
White approached the plate and lifted the one pitch that he had to see from Massey over the left field wall for a tape measure two-run home run sending the Bayou Bengals to the best-of-three College World Series final.
“I was definitely going for a heater. I thought a heater was coming. But I was very amped up and I saw a slider that was up. And I put my bat head to it,” said White.
The homer sent the Tigers to their eighth NCAA championship series in program history.
Game one of the final, which will pit LSU against Florida, will be on Saturday at 7 p.m. EDT on ESPN.