Needing just one win out of the next two games, Louisiana State head coach Paul Mainieri rolled the dice in Tuesday's contest.
Mainieri gave the starting nod to Austin Ross, who was 6-7 on the year and hadn't started a game since the Baton Rouge Regional on May 29.
Although Ross was ineffective and the Tigers lost, snapping a 14-game winning streak, the decision to start him may have still been beneficial.
"I remember my dad coaching in the Junior College World Series in 1971," Mainieri recounted after Tuesday's game. "He was in the same situation that we were tonight, and he brought his number one guy back on three day's rest.
"The guy pitched a phenomenal game and lost 2-1. And I saw how it demoralized his team the next night. I think they got beat 10-2 in the championship game that year."
Texas freshman starter Taylor Jungmann tossed a complete game against the potent LSU lineup on Tuesday, allowing just one unearned run. Even a great outing from Ranaudo on may have resulted in a loss.
"As it turns out, he would've had to pitch a shutout for us to win the way their pitcher shut us down."
And now Mainieri gets to use his ace in the deciding third game, with the National Championship on the line.
Wednesday's contest isn't a typical National Championship game.
The Texas Longhorns and LSU Tigers are two of college baseball's most historic programs.
Texas has six national titles to LSU's five. The Longhorns have reached the College World Series a record 33 times. LSU has 15 appearances in Omaha.
Additionally, the game also matches perhaps the top two teams in the nation coming into the NCAA Regionals. The Longhorns are the top-seeded team in the tournament, and the Tigers are the number one team in most polls.
Mainieri is looking forward to the battle.
"Who could ask for a better script? It's one game to one," he said. "One last game for the National Championship. One team is the number one seed, the other team is ranked number one in most of the polls. Two very historical programs. It's going to be hard to sleep. We're going to be very excited."
Legendary Texas coach Augie Garrido agrees.
"It couldn't get any better than this for all of the people involved," said Garrido. "I mean, the College World Series, ESPN, the two schools involved. It's pretty cool."
Both teams have top-notch pitching staffs, and two of the best starting pitchers in college baseball will take the hill on Wednesday evening.
For LSU, tall right-hander Anthony Ranaudo gets the call. The sophomore is 11-3 with a 2.87 earned-run average on the season. He has limited opposing hitters to a .202 batting average while striking out 155 batters in 119 innings.
"He's 6-foot-7 with kind of a high arm slot," said Mainieri. "When he's throwing good, he's throwing on a real nice downward plane. He's got good velocity and he's got a good curveball. He throws some changeups. If he's pounding the strike zone, he's pretty tough.
Because he's just a sophomore, Ranaudo wasn't eligible for this year's MLB Draft. But with his excellent size, low-90s fastball, and good curveball, he could be a top-10 overall pick in 2010.
Ranaudo struggled in his first CWS outing, but he came back to throw six scoreless innings against Arkansas, giving up just four hits and striking out five.
"He has been our Friday night starter all year, and he's pitched excellent baseball," Mainieri continued. "His last outing was maybe his best outing of the year."
Texas will counter with Cole Green, another sophomore righty. Green has spent all season in the Longhorns' weekend rotation, posting a 5-3 record with a 3.07 ERA.
"He has been very effective," Garrido said of Green. "He has been first in our rotation, and that started in the Big 12 Tournament. Now he's in the position that we put him in a month ago—to be ready for tomorrow. It has found its way to him. So it's what we've got, and he's been effective."
All three of the Longhorns' starting pitchers have been strong in the postseason, but Green has been the most consistent. In four postseason starts, the Coppell, Tx., native has a 2.93 ERA, pitching at least six innings each time.
Green works with an upper-80s, low-90s sinker, a hard, sweeping slider, and a good changeup. With all of the high-profile arms on Texas' staff, Green may be the Horns' most underrated hurler. His slider has helped him rack up 14 strikeouts in 13 CWS innings.
Being the last game of the season, both teams figure to have their entire bullpens available. LSU closer Matty Ott did not pitch in Tuesday's game, and with Jungmann's complete game, the Longhorns haven't used any bullpen arms in two days either.
Regardless, as Mainieri points out, it's not like there are any more games to save his pitchers for.
"I know Augie's going to empty the cupboard and we're going to empty the cupboard," he said. "I'm sure Louis [Coleman] can give us something. Matty will be ready to go. All these guys will be ready.
"I know some of the kids have got summer ball ahead, but I'm not sure we're going to save them for that."
Texas and LSU enter Wednesday night's game with identical 4-1 records in the College World Series.
And at this point, all that matters is tonight's contest.
It's winner-take-all for the National Championship.
"Wednesday is the final fight," Garrido said. "So 288 started and two are left with one game to play. Pretty awesome."
Down to One
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