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We know “Who’s On First?”
But “Who’s Pitching?”
At least, that is the silly game the Wake Forest and LSU coaches were playing going into Thursday night’s Game Of The Century at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska (7 p.m., ESPN).
That century term is used a lot in college football, but this is truly a special and rare matchup at Charles Schwab Field, where a crowd of more than 25,000 is expected.
There have been only two No. 1 teams in college baseball this season and preseason – Wake Forest (54-11) for the last third of the season and LSU (51-16) before the season and over the first two-thirds. And they play tonight in a do-or-die game to reach the CWS best-of-three championship series starting Saturday against No. 2 seed Florida (53-15) at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Wake Forest is the No. 1 national seed. LSU is No. 5. The Tigers handed the Demon Deacons their first loss of the postseason Wednesday night, 5-2, to set this one up. Wake Forest beat LSU, 3-2, in a thriller on Monday night.
College World Series Classic In The Making
This game matches the two consensus No. 1 teams in the country by number of weeks and the two best pitchers in college baseball by statistics. If Walter and Johnson play ball, so to speak, and start their respective aces, that is. They finally said they would shortly before game time as these coaches just love to be rigidly coy.
LSU’s expected starter is 6-foot-6 junior right-hander Paul Skenes (13-2, 1.81 ERA). He leads the nation with 200 strikeouts in 114 and two-thirds innings. He is three strikeouts away from the Southeastern Conference record of 202 set by former LSU pitcher and ESPN announcer Ben McDonald in 1989.
The Baltimore Orioles took McDonald with the first pick of the 1989 draft. Skenes is expected to be the first pick of the 2023 draft by Pittsburgh on July 9 or the second overall pick by the Washington Nationals.
Wake Forest Ace Rhett Lowder Has Most Wins In Nation
Wake Forest’s expected starter is 6-2 right hander Rhett Lowder (15-0, 1.99 ERA). Lowder leads the nation in wins. Skenes is second. MLB.com projects Lowder to be the eighth pick of the first round by Kansas City.
Skenes is second in the nation in ERA. Lowder is fifth. Skenes is first in strikeouts. Lowder is sixth with 137 in 113 and a third innings.
Get the picture?
The holdup was rest of each starter. Both pitched Saturday, so they are only getting four days rest. But that is plenty this time of year and routine in Major League Baseball.
So, the matchup is too good to be true. ESPN’s announcers discussed it as if it was already set during the Tigers’ win Wednesday night hot with anticipation.
The NFL’s Thursday Night Football rarely has something like this. The NBA Draft Thursday night will likely not have as much intrigue, and shouldn’t have as many viewers if people are smart.
“I don’t know if he’s going to pitch,” LSU’s Cade Beloso said Wednesday of Skenes after launching a three-run home run in the third for a 5-2 lead. “But if he does, that will be great for us.”
College World Series Championship Series On The Line
Skenes regularly throws 100 mph and doesn’t look like he is trying that hard. Lowder averages in the mid-90s. Both downshift to nasty sliders in the 80s.
Meanwhile, the Florida Gators hope each pitcher goes nine innings, so regardless of which team wins, Skenes or Lowder may be too tired to pitch Monday in relief if there is a third game.
But instead of talking about how good each of their pitchers are, or how good the other one is, both coaches threw curve balls Wednesday.
“That’s a good question,” Walter said when asked if Lowder would start. “I’m not 100 percent sure on Rhett. We’ll have to talk to him and see how he feels tomorrow and make a decision. Knowing Rhett, he’ll probably be on the board tomorrow.”
Then he listed six other possible starters, who we will not name out of respect for the truth. Thanks, Tom. Someone should have asked you about the Miami job you’re up for instead.
But Walter didn’t mind predicting LSU’s starter.
“I do expect to see Paul Skenes,” he said. “He threw before the game (Wednesday). He was cutting it loose pretty good. I imagine that’s exactly who we’ll see.”
Johnson hasn’t named a starting pitcher all post-season. What happened to gamesmanship?
“We’ll talk to him tonight,” Johnson said Wednesday night.
Yes, and I’m thinking Paul Skenes will talk to you.
“I’m pitching,” he will say.
“I think it’s a day-to-day deal,” Johnson said. “We have a pre-throw process that we go through with pitchers and their availability and testing and recovery and all of those types of things. So, we still need to go through that before we made a decision.”
It’s Skenes vs. Lowder, period.
If now, we’re going to have a problem.