LSU fans have become accustomed to what Anthony Ranaudo can do from the mound.
Yet, when he was pulled by head coach Paul Mainieri with just one out in the fourth inning, it was clear things were not the norm.
“It was his poorest performance of the year,” Mainieri said. “He didn’t have any rhythm today.”
Fortunately when his departure came, the Tigers were not behind the eight ball quite yet – leading 3-2 with two outs and the bases loaded.
Option No. 2: junior Paul Bertuccini.
The right-handed reliever worked his off-speed stuff over the next inning and 1/3rd, allowing two runs on four hits to hand the Cavaliers the 4-3 lead in the top of the fifth.
Virginia had already tossed aside UC-Irvine, Ole Miss and No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasbourg in their postseason run – and No. 3 LSU appeared to be next.
Which is why you can’t take away how crucial of a moment Sean Ochinko’s at-bat in the bottom of the frame was.
“I am not going to lie to you guys, that was the most important baseball moment of my life,” he said.
With two men on and one out, the junior broke the game wide open – driving Matt Packer’s 2-1 pitch over the left field wall to give LSU a lead that they would never trail from.
Though the junior fanned on every other plate appearance on the night, his shot in the bottom of the fifth will not soon be forgotten.
“Coach said to have an extraordinary night, and I struck out three times,” Ochinko said. “But that was a big hit.”
By the sixth, there was option No. 3: Austin Ross.
The typical Sunday starter tossed two innings of one-run, four-hit ball to move the Tigers into the seventh inning, giving way to option No. 4: Chad Jones.
The southpaw walked the left-hander he entered the game to face, yet got the next Cavalier batter to pop up to end the frame – leaving two Virginia runners stranded and the Tigers with a one-run lead.
By option No. 5, you would think Mainieri would be out of, well, options.
Not the case.
Enter Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year Louis Coleman.
The senior fired an inning of hitless ball in the eighth to hand the reigns to freshman closer Matty Ott in the ninth.
First, of course, the Tigers would allow the freshman some breathing room.
After a one-out RBI single by DJ LeMahieu, junior Ryan Schimpf bombed the first pitch of his at-bat over the right field fence for a two-run home run – his 21st of the year, a team-high.
“Ochinko got the big hit, and Schimpfer got us the insurance homer,” Mainieri said.
As always, the junior was quick to pass on the praise.
“DJ had the huge hit for us,” Schimpf said. “My hit didn’t win the game.”
No matter, for by the time Ott took the ball from Coleman with a four run lead in the games’ final inning, the outcome was in the books.
As the Tiger skipper reflected on the victory that was, the realization that his squad scattered nine runs on 14 hits and worked six pitchers – three starters – had not sunk in.
“That was a game that I can’t remember us having all season,” Mainieri said. “It was amazing we were able to piece it together with our bullpen.”
“It was a different way for us to win a game.”
With Arkansas on the docket in the winner’s bracket for Monday at 6 p.m. CST, expect Coleman to be at it again.
“I don't think the 17 pitches he threw will affect him at all,” Mainieri said. “That's not much more than a glorified bullpen, but we'll watch him and take good care of him. He's done it a couple of times already.
“Everybody will be available for Monday except for Ranaudo and Ross,” he added. “I think our pitching is in great shape.”