Lange spent the summer of 2012 in Baton Rouge playing for the Marucci Elite travel team. His teammate, Alden Cartwright, invited him to watch LSU play Oregon State and Louisiana-Monroe in that year’s Baton Rouge regional.
Lange saw Aaron Nola and Kevin Gausman from the stands, envisioning himself one day taking their place on the Alex Box mound.
“That was my first experience with LSU and I fell in love with it that day,” Lange said.
The only problem — Lange didn’t yet have an offer from LSU. The coaches had never seen him throw, and as a kid from Lee’s Summit, Mo., he didn’t imagine a program like LSU would pay him any attention.
That changed a few days later.
He appeared in a game for Marucci down in New Orleans with LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn in attendance. Lange caught Dunn’s eye, but he was far from the pitcher that would one day become the SEC Freshman of the Year.
“His body type was a lot different,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, recalling his first impression of Lange. “He had a lot more pounds on him. His legs were thicker. He just carried more weight. His mechanics were not as consistent, therefore his control was not as good.”
Dunn wanted to offer him anyway. Mainieri remembered asking Dunn if he really thought he could develop Lange into an SEC pitcher.
Dunn’s answer was definitive.
“I loved his demeanor on the mound, even as a young kid,” Dunn said. “Having the opportunity to speak with him, that sold me. He was very mature. You combine the skill set with the body and the makeup, that’s a no-brainer.”
Mainieri picked up on the same thing when he sat Lange down in his office to extend him an offer.
“He had an unusual maturity,” Mainieri said. “He talked differently than the other recruits in a self-assured way. You could see it wasn’t fake. It wasn’t boastful. It was just part of his being. The more you talked to him, the more you knew you were recruiting the right guy.”
Lange committed to LSU that September, about three months after he watched LSU play for the first time.
“That’s a big reason I’m here, getting to experience that regional,” Lange said. “Once I was given the opportunity to get a scholarship, there was no reason not to come here.”
Now Lange has an opportunity to do what Gausman did three years ago — send LSU to the regional championship.
Lange will take the mound Saturday in LSU’s second game of the Baton Rouge regional. Mainieri has known for a while he’d give the ball to his most electric arm for this important game, the latest honor in a remarkable freshman season.
Lange led the SEC in ERA (1.94), finished second in wins (10), third in strikeouts (98) and fourth in opponent’s batting average (.208). He already has a first-team All-America recognition and should finish with several more.
“I can’t tell you I expected him to have the year he had,” Mainieri said.
Mainieri was sitting in the stands last week at the SEC Tournament watching Florida play Arkansas. A scout for the St. Louis Cardinals tapped him on the shoulder and said he watched Lange pitch many times in high school, but he’s “180-degrees different than he was last year.”
Mainieri credits Dunn for taking Lange to that next level, making good on the promise he made in 2012 that he could develop the kid with a wild arm.
Now Dunn’s ready for the next chapter.
“There’s room for development,” Dunn said. “He has the hunger to do that, to want to be at the top of his game. It’s exciting to see where this kid’s going to end up.”
The first step on that journey comes Saturday. Lange doesn’t get caught up in the hype that comes with his first NCAA Tournament appearance though. He’s going to treat it like any other start.
But Lange knows this one’s a little different. He saw for himself three years ago how electric The Box is in the postseason.
And that’s a big reason why he wears purple and gold today.
“I remember sitting there thinking I could see myself playing here and in front of these fans if I ever got the opportunity,” Lange said. “God blessed me with the opportunity, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it.”