There are plenty of cities that have professional franchises in sports other than major league baseball, many of which are rumored candidates for expansion or relocation. Many of them, such as Nashville, Charlotte and Las Vegas, are strong supporters of minor league baseball teans. New Orleans is not one of them. Their legacy team, the Zephyrs, is now known as the Baby Cakes, a ridiculous monicker even by the standards where their NBA team plays its games at the Smoothie King Arena.
But there’s a lot more class and, frankly, top-level players on exhibit in nearby Baton Rouge, where the LSU baseball team enjoys robust, state-wide support and at a school where their men’s basketball team is forfeiting legacy wins there’s more than enough bandwidth for college baseball to rule. And last night, during what was arguably one of the most anticpated and gripping College World Series games ever, the Bayou Bengals of the diamond showed the nation, or at least those not watching the NBA draft, exactly why.
Per Axios Sports’ Jeff Tracy:
Tommy White has a penchant for hitting bombs — his nickname, after all, is Tommy Tanks — but his blast on Thursday night put all the rest to shame.
- He went 2-4 with a walk and that majestic dinger, raising his triple slash to a ridiculous .370/.430/.728 with 23 HR and an even 100 RBI on the year, second-most in the nation.
- Not that this is too surprising: Last year at NC State — before transferring to LSU this season — he hit an NCAA freshman-record 27 homers with an 1.182 OPS.
Between the lines: It’s hard to argue that a walk-off homer to send your team to the CWS final wasn’t the best performance of the night. But the game only reached an 11th-inning stalemate thanks to a pitchers’ duel for the ages between the two best arms in college baseball.
What happened: LSU’s Paul Skenes and Wake’s Rhett Lowder are projected to be the first two college pitchers off the board at next month’s draft, and last night they showed why.
- Skenes, a finalist for this year’s Golden Spikes Award (baseball’s Heisman), threw 120 (!) near-flawless pitches in eight scoreless innings, with nine strikeouts, one walk and just two hits. On the year, he’s 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA and 209 strikeouts, by far the most in the nation.
- Lowder, the ACC pitcher of the year, went seven scoreless innings with six strikeouts, two walks and three hits. He went a perfect 15-0 this year and had a 1.88 ERA for the No. 1 team in the nation. Not bad.
And as THE SPORTING NEWS’ David Suggs added, Skenes, in particular, is a name you should already know, and if I don’t miss my guess could be factoring into a pennant race at some level, possibly even the major leagues, before this year is up:
There aren’t many scarier sights than a Paul Skenes fastball barreling toward the hands. It’s electric, a lotus that dwindles through the strike zone in the blink of an eye. And it is terrifying — hurdling in the atmosphere with velocity in the triple digits.
The architect of such chaos looks on in delight. He’s long, but not gangly. His towering frame is matched by the sturdiness in his foundation, a finely tuned instrument designed to break batters’ hearts. And their bats.
The LSU ace is certain to be one of the MLB Draft’s first picks this year. One look at his abominable figure and you can see why; Skenes is cut from the same cloth as the likes of C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay and countless others who came before him, a fearsome presence capable of raising tickers just by stepping to the mound.
That’s not quite as tall as Victor Wembenyana, but relative to his peers and competitors, he’s as much a relative outlier. His CWS performance last night, in an elimination game, was electric and captivating, reminiscent of a Stephen Strasburg or Kunal Rocker of recent vintage. There are plenty of experts who may justifiably believe that 120 pitches under the degree of intensity and pressure he threw under last night could have residual damage; indeed, there’s some question as to whether he will even be available for another potential elimination game on Sunday night, when Game 2 of the matchup between fellow SEC foe Florida in the championship bracket is scheduled. So we may have seen the best, and the last, of Skenes in Tiger purple.
But we sure haven’t seen the last of Tiger fans and college baseball mania that was brought to Omaha, nor the kind of exuberance Tommy Tanks showed with his walk-off. You’d be hard pressed to find any professional team with this kind of talent or passion this time of year.
You Geaux, Dudes.