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LSU ace Paul Skenes’ name spelled backwards is Luap Seneks.
Tennessee spent most of Saturday night trying to decipher that and got lost in translation, 6-3, to the No. 5 seeded Tigers in the opening round of the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, before 25,010 at Charles Schwab Field.
The College World Series continued Sunday with TCU eliminating No. 7 seed Virginia, 4-3, in an elimination game in the double-elimination tournament. No. 2 seed Florida and Oral Roberts started at 7:15 p.m. on ESPN 2. The first three games were all one-run affairs with dramatic ninth innings. Oral Roberts beat TCU, 6-5, and Florida beat Virginia, 6-5, Friday. Then No. 1 seed Wake Forest defeated No. 8 seed Stanford, 3-2, in the early game Saturday.
LSU won by three, but Tennessee had a runner on second in the ninth inning when Christian Scott’s liner up the middle apparently was about to make it 6-4. But LSU reliever Riley Cooper stabbed it for the third out and the save.
Skenes is expected to be the first or second player taken in the Major League Baseball Draft on July 9, and he again showed why. He reversed his repertoire of pitches from a 5-2 no-decision against Tennessee in Baton Rouge on March 30. Skenes struck out 12 that night and allowed one run on five hits and a walk in seven innings. This time, he used his breaking balls and changeups earlier in the count around his 100 mph fastball. It worked as the results were almost exactly the same.
Paul Skenes Strikes Out 24 Tennessee Batters In 2 Games
He struck out 12 while allowing two runs on five hits and a walk in seven and two-thirds innings for the win Saturday to go to 13-2 on the season.
Skenes struck out lead-off hitter Maui Ahuna three times on March 30 and twice on Saturday. He fanned sixth hitter Griffin Merritt three times in the first game and twice Saturday. Skenes struck out cleanup hitter Christian Moore once in the first game swinging and twice in the second game looking. He got fifth hitter Zane Denton once on March 30 and twice on June 17.
It was a clinic.
“He threw backwards,” an admiring Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said. “Throws a hundred miles an hour, and he threw backwards on our guys. He mixed it up. In order to do that effectively, you’ve got to throw strikes and command your pitches. And he did that. He was effective with his whole arsenal.”
That would be curve, slider, changeup, 100 mph fastballs from Skenes, who just won the Dick Howser Award that goes to college baseball’s best player.
Paul Skenes Reversed, Mixed Pitches
“But there was a heavier mix, I think, than we expected,” Vitello said. “I think our guys recognized it right away, but easier said than done adjusting on the fly.”
Like adjusting your steering wheel dramatically at 100 mph. You wreck.
“I had all four pitches working. Kind of threw what they weren’t expecting at times, and it worked pretty well,” Skenes said.
LSU pitching coach Wes Johnson called an excellent game. So Georgia will have to wait at least another few days to get their new coach in Athens.
“I think what gets lost with him sometimes because the stuff is so amazing is the pitch execution is tremendous,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said. “When you put that kind of stuff with that kind of execution, you have Paul Skenes.”
Skenes is three strikeouts away from breaking the Southeastern Conference record of 202 set by former LSU pitcher Ben McDonald in 1989. Hawaii’s Derek Tatsuno set the NCAA record with 234 in 1979.
Unfortunately, LSU cannot pitch Skenes every game.
LSU To Play Wake Forest In College World Series Monday
The No. 5-seeded Tigers (49-15) advance to play No. 1 seed Wake Forest (53-10) at 7 p.m. Monday on ESPN. Wake Forest also threw its ace Saturday in its weather-delayed win over Stanford. Rhett Lowder allowed seven hits and two runs in five and a third innings with six strikeouts for a no-decision. At 15-0, he leads the nation in wins. Starter-reliever Seth Kennter (8-1, 2.18 ERA) picked up the win win an inning and a third of relief.
But Wake Forest basically has another ace in 6-foot-5 sophomore left-hander Josh Hartle (11-2, 2.80 ERA), who will start Monday. Hartle has struck out 131 in 96 and a third innings this season. And LSU tends to struggle against lefties.
LSU is expected to go with junior right-hander Ty Floyd (7-0, 4.50 ERA) or sophomore right-hander Thatcher Hurd (6-2, 6.49 ERA).
Tennessee, on the other hand, will face its second consecutive ace in Stanford’s 6-5 left-hander Quinn Mathews (10-4, 3.60 ERA) at 2 p.m. Monday on ESPN.
Mathews has struck out 152 and leads the nation in innings pitched at 120. He threw 156 pitches in Stanford’s win over Texas last Sunday in the Super Regional, which earned him the day off Saturday.
“Obviously, giving Quinn that extra day, we’ll see what we hope he can bring us,” Stanford coach David Esquer said.
It does not look like he will throw 156 pitches again, though.
“Get us into the sixth or seventh inning,” Esquer said of the plan.
Tennessee will throw its ace Monday in junior right-hander Chase Dollander (7-6, 4.50 ERA). A projected No. 6 pick of the MLB Draft, he has struck out 118 in 86 innings. Andrew Lindsey (3-4) took the loss against LSU.
Reporters questioned Vitello’s decision not to throw his ace against Skenes. What Vitello may have been thinking was he had a better chance of winning game two with Dollander than with Lindsey, and that he had little chance against Skenes regardless whom he pitched against LSU.
“I’d love for you all to come over to the hotel and replay the game like a video game and make decisions,” Vitello said.
Omaha Can Be Breathtaking
This was no video game to Skenes and the Tigers. LSU made its first trip to Omaha since 2017.
“It was awesome,” Skenes said. “And I think I’m going to need a little bit of time to kind of internalize that and take it all in.”
Breathing correctly helps.
“That first pitch of the game – it’s everything you could expect and more,” said Gavin Dugas. whose home run put LSU up 1-0 in the second.
“It’s an unbelievable environment – 20-something thousand people,” said Brayden Jobert, who went 3-for-4 and homered in the eighth for the 6-3 lead. “Just taking our breaths. We all work really hard, and it’s for these moments.”