The SEC Freshman of the Year tossed a complete game shutout as LSU beat UNC-Wilmington, 2-0, in a game didn’t start until 10:17 p.m. Rain halted play at the Baton Rouge regional earlier in the day for more than three hours, meaning LSU and UNCW didn’t get going until two hours past the originally scheduled time.
Lange made it worth the wait.
“He showed why he’s a first-team All-American, first-team All-SEC, SEC Freshman of the Year,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “He should be the National Freshman of the Year, maybe the National Pitcher of the Year. And he doesn’t care about any of those things. All he cares about is winning.”
LSU needed that kind of performance from Lange as the offense struggled early. The Tigers had five hits through the first six innings but couldn’t score. None of those hits came with runners on-base, but something clicked once the clock struck midnight.
As the calendar turned to Sunday, Kade Scivicque finally got things going with a leadoff double in the seventh inning. Andrew Stevenson followed that with a single to right, putting runners on the corners, and Chris Chinea drove him home with another base hit.
“I was going to get that run no matter what I had to do,” said Chinea, who had struck out looking in his two previous at-bats.
LSU picked up an insurance run in the ninth. Stevenson and Jake Fraley each got singles to put runners on the corners for Jared Foster. He grounded out to first, but it was enough for the run to score.
That 2-0 cushion was all LSU needed thanks to Lange’s gem in his first NCAA Tournament game. He threw a complete game shutout, limiting UNCW to just six hits. Lange struck out 12, pushing his total for the year to 110.
He’s the first LSU freshman to throw more than 100 strikeouts in a season.
“He’s the next in the long line of humble superstars we’ve had here,” Mainieri said. “He cares so much about the team over anything else.”
Lange got stronger as the game went on. He surrendered only three hits after the fourth inning, striking out nine during that stretch. UNCW went 0-for-14 against him with runners on-base, and 0-for-6 when those runners were in scoring position.
He retired 17 of the last 19 batters he faced.
“It started to click as the game progressed,” Lange said. “My command got better, my breaking ball got better.”
Even though Lange hit the 100-pitch mark after seven innings, there was never any doubt he’d go the distance. He only needed five pitches to get through the eighth, which made Mainieri’s decision even easier.
That insurance run made it a no-brainer, and he sent Lange to the mound to close it out in the ninth.
“I wasn’t going to take him out,” Mainieri said. “I would’ve had 12,000 people attack me in the dugout if I did.”
Lange gave up a leadoff single, but as he did all game, Lange took it to another level once runners reached base.
Lange struck out three straight after the single to close it out and send LSU to a regional championship.
“Any pitcher will tell you they don’t want to come out of the game,” Lange said. “Coach Mainieri was confident in me, and I was just grateful for the opportunity.”
LSU’s now one win away from advancing to the Super Regional. The Tigers will face either Tulane or UNCW at approximately 7 p.m., and Jared Poché will take the mound.
Whichever team LSU faces will have to beat the Tigers twice to eliminate them from the tournament. The “if necessary” game is Monday at 7 p.m., but LSU would rather finish it off Sunday.
The Tigers were in this exact position a year ago when Houston pulled out two straight wins and stun LSU in Alex box. They won’t let that happen again.
“We know we have to play to the last out,” Chinea said. “Once that last out is made, then we can start to think about the next game.”