LSU stays alive again by beating Wake Forest in College World Series

Published 10:32 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — LSU staved off elimination from the College World Series for a second time. And now the Tigers are right where they expected to be all along.

Cade Beloso hit a go-ahead three-run homer, freshman Griffin Herring pitched 4 2/3 innings of shutout relief in his longest outing, and LSU forced a second bracket final with a 5-2 victory over No. 1 national seed Wake Forest on Wednesday night.

The winner of the rematch Thursday night will advance to play Florida in the best-of-three championship series that starts Saturday. The Gators clinched a spot with a 3-2 win over TCU earlier Wednesday.

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“We expect to be playing important baseball in June,” Tigers coach Jay Johnson said. “We play every game like we’re playing important baseball in June. Like, the Tuesday on March 22nd against McNeese is a playoff game to us. The thought process behind that is if you do that all year long, then you can just stay in character when you get to the postseason.”

Wake Forest (54-11) will look to bounce back from its first loss in its eight NCAA Tournament games. The Demon Deacons, who have not lost consecutive games this season, are trying to reach the championship round in their first CWS appearance since the 1955 team won the national title.

“We’ll come out ready to play tomorrow like we’ve done all year,” Wake Forest coach Tom Walter said. “We’ve responded to adversity all year. Tomorrow will be no different.”

LSU hopes to set up a rematch of the 2017 finals, which Florida won. The teams have not played each other this season.

“It’s the same game we’ve been playing since February,” Beloso said. “We’re going to go out there, have fun, we’re going to compete to the best of our abilities and let the rest take care of itself. Everybody knows the scenario. But you don’t have to put any more pressure on yourself.”

The coaches didn’t announce starting pitchers, but aces Paul Skenes of LSU and Rhett Lowder of Wake Forest were not ruled out.

The Deacons scored 75 runs and hit 19 homers in their first five NCAA Tournament games, all played at home. They have just eight runs — their fewest over three games since April 2021 — and one homer at Charles Schwab Field, where the wind has blown in for three days. They’re batting .198 here, and leading hitter Nick Kurtz is 0-for-9 and Justin Johnson is 0-for-12.

“We play in a pretty small ballpark and the balls that usually go out there aren’t going out here,” Pierce Bennett said. “We just need to adjust on keeping hard and low line drives. It’s hard to do. Hitting’s hard. You can’t really intentionally do that all the time. But just focusing in, zeroing in on just hitting line drives, finding the holes.”

The Tigers erased a 2-0 deficit in the third inning when Dylan Crews scored on a wild pitch to tie it and Beloso launched Seth Keener’s 2-0 offering into the right-field bullpen. As Beloso approached the plate, he pulled his helmet off, chest-bumped Gavin Dugas and slapped Tre’ Morgan’s arm — and then all three did cross-arm flexes in front of their celebrating dugout.

It was only the fourth homer surrendered by Keener in 69 innings this season.

Herring, who hadn’t pitched since June 5 and had never gone more than three innings, steadied the Tigers after starter Javen Coleman and Blake Money combined to get just five outs.

The left-hander entered with LSU down two runs and held one of the country’s top offenses scoreless.

“Pure adrenaline,” Herring said. “This place is awesome. I think I kind of was able to feed off the adrenaline instead of letting it get to me, kind of like a steroid shot. Pretty cool.”

Johnson drew laughs when he interjected: “We’ll make sure adrenaline is not on the NCAA banned substance list.”

Herring allowed three hits, walked one and struck out six. He left with runners at the corners and one out in the sixth.

Gavin Guidry came on and struck out national home run co-leader Brock Wilken and Justin Johnson to end the threat. The Deacons got two runners on in the eighth before Riley Cooper, who shut out Tennessee over the last three innings Tuesday, got Tommy Hawke to line out.

Cooper, who earned his second save in as many nights and third of the season, worked around a leadoff walk in the ninth to strike out Nick Kurtz and Wilken and got Johnson to ground out to end the game and set up the winner-take-all bracket final.

“It’s just another game,” Bennett said. “Bottom line, we’ve been doing it all year. Haven’t lost a series all year. Knock on wood on that one.”

All games on ESPN
June 21
Florida 3, TCU 2 (TCU eliminated)
LSU 5, Wake Forest 2
June 22
Wake Forest vs. LSU, 6 p.m.

Championship Series
June 24: Florida vs. Wake Forest-LSU winner, 6 p.m.
June 25: Florida vs. Wake Forest-LSU winner, 2 p.m.
x-June 26: Florida vs. Wake Forest-LSU winner, 6 p.m.