Tigers roar back to defeat Horns

Chance Ruffin (UT Athletics)

OMAHA, Neb. - The Texas Longhorns torn through the NCAA postseason, racking up a number of soul-crushing victories. On Monday night, they were on the other end, losing a tough 7-6 decision to LSU in 11 innings. Burnt Orange Beat's Jason Cole looks back at the game, which put the Tigers one win away from a National Championship.

Nine innings into Monday night's National Championship Series opener, Louisiana State centerfielder Mikie Mahtook was having a game to forget.

Mahtook began his night by going 0-for-4, striking out three times and grounding into an inning-ending double play in the eighth.

"My first three at-bats—it wasn't like I just struck out," Mahtook said after the game. "It was three terrible at-bats. I was chasing balls in the dirt, and they just weren't good at-bats."

Displaying poise well beyond his years, Mahtook, a freshman, shook off the rough start by coming through with LSU's game-winning hit in the 11th inning.

Throughout the postseason, it was the Texas Longhorns that lived off last at-bat heroics and unbelievable finishes.

In Monday's game, it was the Tigers doing the amazing, as they used a couple of late-inning comebacks to defeat the Longhorns, 7-6, in 11 innings.

LSU got on top quickly, as slugging left fielder Ryan Schimpf took Texas starter Chance Ruffin's fourth pitch of the game well over the wall in right-center field. The solo bomb was Schimpf's 22nd round-tripper of the season.

Ruffin settled in after surrendering the homer, and LSU starting pitcher Louis Coleman appeared to be on top of his game from the outset.

Coleman retired nine of the first ten batters he faced, keeping Texas off the board through three innings.

And then the power clicked on for the Longhorns.

Texas hitters Travis Tucker, Russell Moldenhauer and Kevin Keyes all hit solo home runs in the bottom of the fourth, giving Texas its first lead of the day.

Coming into the game, the Longhorns hadn't hit more than three home runs in a single game all season. They matched that high in a span of six hitters.

In four College World Series games, Texas has now hit 11 home runs. They hit just 17 as a team in 27 Big 12 regular-season games.

Moldenhauer says the key to the power surge is simply the environment.

"We're not playing at Disch-Falk," said Moldenhauer, referring to the Longhorns' home field. "That field just swallows balls. We've hit the ball well all year, even at Disch-Falk. It's just a monster park. It's pretty much the same way we've been hitting, it's just that we're at a little bit smaller ballpark."

The Longhorns were also helped by the fact that Coleman began elevating his sinker in the fourth, and the pitch was flattening out.

"[Coleman] elevated some pitches and gave up five solo home runs," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "I went out to the mound and said to him, ‘At least they're solo home runs. Keep giving up those solo home runs and we'll stay within striking distance.'"

Mainieri was right.

Coleman settled in once again and Ruffin cruised his way into the top of the sixth. The Longhorns' right-hander opened the frame by giving up two singles and getting two strikeouts.

With a two outs and runners on the corners, the Texas coaching staff called on southpaw closer Austin Wood to face the left-handed Jared Mitchell in an attempt to protect a 3-1 lead.

The move ended Ruffin's day at 5.2 innings and 87 pitches.

Known as a fierce competitor on the mound, Ruffin was cramping up a bit, but he did not want to leave the game.

"My calf was cramping just when Mahtook came up," he said, "but that's not what took me out of the game. I was feeling fine. I was going to fight through it. I never got asked how I was feeling or anything like that. The decision was just made."

Mitchell made the Longhorns pay for their decision, lacing an 0-1 pitch down the left-field line for a triple, scoring two runs and tying the game at three.

Though Ruffin had battled—tying a season high with 10 strikeouts—he ended up yielding three runs in those 5.2 innings.

Just as the Longhorns have done for most of the CWS, they answered in the very next inning.

Moldenhauer came back with his second home run of the game, another solo shot.

Then, with two outs, Texas put together a rally.

Kevin Keyes singled, Brandon Loy doubled him to third, and Keyes came across to score on a wild pitch, extending Texas' lead to 5-3 through six innings.

The two teams traded solo homers in the seventh, with DJ LeMahieu going yard for the Tigers and Connor Rowe hitting another round-tripper for Texas, helping the ‘Horns maintain their two-run cushion.

The action was kept to a minimum until the top of the ninth inning, when Wood allowed a one-out single to Tigers first baseman Sean Ochinko.

With three right-handers due up after Ochinko, Texas coach Augie Garrdo brought in Taylor Jungmann, who was slated to start Tuesday's game.

It was a move that Mainieri didn't completely understand.

"I was kind of surprised he took the kid out in the ninth inning," the LSU coach said. "That kid was good. But so were the guys he brought in too. He knows his players."

Unfortunately for the ‘Horns, Jungmann's outing was disastrous. The freshman threw six pitches, all of which missed the strike zone.

After the game, Garrido regretted the decision.

"[Jungmann] has been one of our best pitchers and they were at the bottom of the order with right-handed hitters," Garrido explained. "I felt confident that what happened would not happen. But that's the unexpected.

"I put him in a situation that he wasn't comfortable with, so it's more my fault than his."

With two men on and a 2-0 count to pinch hitter Tyler Hanover, the Longhorns brought in Austin Dicharry to replace Jungmann. Dicharry came back to strike out Hanover with an excellent changeup.

Still with two on and now two outs, Dicharry was faced with the tough task of facing DJ LeMahieu, the Tigers' leading hitter. Down to their final out, LeMahieu helped LSU come up huge, as he hit a double to left field, scoring two runs and tying the game once again.

For the first time all postseason, the Longhorns were the ones giving up the clutch hits.

"It has to happen sometime," said Moldenhauer of losing a close game. "We can't have all the glorious game-ending victories. You just have to throw that aside and forget about what happened tonight."

The Longhorns still had chances to win the game.

LSU brought on freshman closer Matty Ott in the ninth inning, who entered the night with just five walks in 47.1 innings.

Ott plunked leadoff man Tim Maitland, who had entered the game as a defensive replacement for left fielder Preston Clark.

Texas had an opportunity to win the game in the bottom of the ninth. After showing his power with a home run earlier in the contest, Connor Rowe laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, advancing Maitland to second.

But the clutch hit just never came. Michael Torres and Travis Tucker, the top two hitters in Texas' batting order, both flew out to end the threat.

Dicharry got the ‘Horns back into trouble in the tenth, loading the bases with just one out and causing pitching coach Skip Johnson to make another pitching change.

This time, Texas called on flame-throwing right-hander Brandon Workman to put out the fire. It was Workman's first appearance since May 31, when he threw 3.2 innings in an Austin Regional game against Army.

Flashing a fastball that sat between 95-97 mph and a wicked curveball, Workman struck out both Derek Helenihi and Hanover, getting them to chase curveballs in the dirt.

After Texas didn't score in the bottom of the frame, Workman went back out for the 11th.

Workman's velocity was predictably down a notch, and he was working further up in the zone with his fastball. Two walks and a throwing error from catcher Cameron Rupp put men on the corners with two outs for LSU, and Mahtook stepped up to the plate.

The centerfielder had poked a seeing-eye single through the infield in his previous at-bat, which came in the tenth inning. In addition to his poor start, Mahtook needed help from an IV when he began cramping in the sixth inning.

"After [the sixth], I came in and got an IV," he said. "Thankfully we caught the cramps before they got too bad. After I got off the IV, I wasn't too bad."

Feeling refreshed from the IV and confident from his previous at-bat, Mahtook smacked a hanging curveball into center for a single, scoring LeMahieu and giving the Tigers a 7-6 advantage.

One run was all Ott would need. The Tigers' freshman closer retired the side in order in the bottom of the 11th. It was LSU's first 1-2-3 inning since the third.

LSU's clutch hits were clearly key on Monday night, but they couldn't have done it without relievers Chad Jones, Paul Bertuccini and Matty Ott. The bullpen combined to give the Tigers five hitless innings.

On the other hand, Texas' normally reliable bullpen issued seven walks in 5.1 innings.

Both teams now look forward to Tuesday night's game.

The Longhorns will look to stay alive, while LSU can clinch a National Championship.

Texas will come back by starting righty Taylor Jungmann in game two, and LSU could go in a couple of different directions.

"Honestly, I just don't know yet," said Mainieri when asked about his pitching situation for Tuesday. "I'm just going to have to sleep on it and decide what we're going to do tomorrow. I'm just not sure."

The Tigers are likely to start either Anthony Ranaudo (11-3, 2.87 ERA) or Austin Ross (6-7, 5.09 ERA). Ranaudo would be pitching on three-days rest if he gets the nod.

Monday's game was no-doubt a tough one to swallow for the Longhorns, who were just one out away from securing a victory. Regardless, Garrido is quick to mention that the series is not yet over.

"It's a two out of three series," he said. "Georgia wiped out Fresno in the first game last year and they were ahead in the second game. Fresno came back, took the momentum, and then waltzed off with the National Championship on the third day. All things are possible."

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