Skenes shines yet again as LSU beats Tennessee in College World Series opener

Published 11:58 pm Saturday, June 17, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Paul Skenes struck out 12 and carried a shutout into the eighth inning before Tennessee broke through, and LSU held on to beat its SEC rival 6-3 in the College World Series on Saturday night.

The big right-hander’s fastball touched 100 mph or more 46 times as he ran his season strikeout total to 200, the first college pitcher to reach that mark in 12 years.

“I had all four pitches working,” Skenes said. “I went out there and made pitches and kind of threw what they weren’t expecting at times, and it worked pretty well.”

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Skenes kept Tennessee batters off-balance by often starting them off with his secondary pitches — change-ups, sliders and curves — rather than his devastating fastball. Coach Jay Johnson said pitching coach Wes Johnson adjusted the way he called pitches when they noticed the first few batters sitting on fastballs and making good contact.

“You could tell they were trying to jump him,” Jay Johnson said, adding that batters must make their decision to swing early if they’re going to catch up to Skenes’ heater.

“If he starts throwing his change-up, there’s not much you can do,” he said. “The execution was pretty elite.”

LSU will play Wake Forest on Monday night at 6 to determine control of Bracket 2. The Volunteers will meet Stanford in an elimination game Monday at 1 p.m. Wake Forest defeated Stanford 3-2 earlier Saturday.

Brayden Jobert finished a single short of hitting for the cycle for LSU. He doubled in the fourth, tripled in a run in the sixth and homered in the eighth after Tennessee had made it a two-run game.

Gavin Dugas’ third homer in four games opened the scoring against Andrew Lindsey (3-4), and the Tigers were up 5-0 after seven innings.

The Vols made a game of it after Christian Scott doubled for Tennessee’s first extra-base hit with one out in the eighth. Maui Ahuna’s RBI single knocked Skenes (13-2) out of the game, and Hunter Ensley homered on Gavin Guidry’s only pitch to cut the lead to 5-3.

Riley Cooper struck out Christian Moore to end the eighth, and after an error and balk in the ninth, he caught Scott’s soft liner to finish the game.

LSU won two of three against the Vols in Baton Rouge early in the season. Skenes was a 5-2 winner in the opener of that series, striking out 12 and allowing one run in seven innings.

This matchup commanded up to $500 for a prime seat on the secondary market at midweek, and Skenes was the main attraction through seven innings for the crowd of more than 25,000. Projected to be picked second overall behind teammate Dylan Crews in the amateur draft next month, Skenes recorded double-digit strikeouts for the 14th time in 18 starts.

If Skenes pitches again at the CWS, he will have a good chance to break the SEC single-season strikeout record of 202 by ex-LSU star Ben McDonald in 1989. As it is, Skenes has the most strikeouts since Trevor Bauer had 203 for UCLA in 2011.

“He has an unreal arm,” the Vols’ Hunter Ensley said. “All the pregame work was good building up to the game. I thought we had a lot of good at-bats, quality at-bats. Good fight in the box, but just not able to get it done.”

Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said he had never seen Skenes so sharp working over batters with a combination of pitches.

“He was effective with his whole arsenal,” Vitello said. “There was a heavier mix, I think, than we expected. I think our guys recognized it right away, but easier said than done adjusting on the fly in that situation.”

The atmosphere added adrenaline. Though Skenes said he’s accustomed to pitching in front of big crowds at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, the setting at Charles Schwab Field was next level.

“It was awesome,” he said, “and I’ll need a little time to internalize that and take it all in.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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