OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — LSU went from its low point of the season to the ultimate high in a span of 24 hours.
A day after it gave up the most runs ever in a College World Series game, LSU cranked up its offense and won its first national title since 2009 with an 18-4 victory over Florida on Monday night in the third and deciding game of the finals.
LSU (54-17) staved off elimination three times in bracket play and bounced back from the humiliating 24-4 loss in Game 2 to claim its seventh championship, second to Southern California’s 12.
“We got punched in the mouth yesterday,” Tigers star Dylan Crews said. “That’s the beauty of baseball. You wake up in the morning and do it all over again. We woke up today and you could see on everybody's faces that we were ready to go. Nobody in the country was going to beat us today.”
The Tigers wiped out an early 2-0 deficit with a six-run second inning against Jac Caglianone (7-4). The runs kept coming until they finished with the most in a title game since USC's 21-14 win over Arizona State in 1998. The 14-run margin was the largest ever in a final. Their 24 hits were most in a CWS game.
“It wasn't our day, all the way around,” Gators catcher BT Riopelle said.
Thatcher Hurd (8-3) gave up Wyatt Langford's two-run homer in the first and then allowed no hits or runs while retiring 18 of the next 21 batters. Riley Cooper took over to start the seventh and gave up Ty Evans' CWS-record fifth homer, and Gavin Guidry finished the combined five-hitter.
Cade Beloso said coach Jay Johnson’s message to the team in the morning meeting was simple.
“It was, ‘One game for the national championship. Are you in?’ Everybody was, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’ You can’t let baseball get to you," Beloso said. "The game is brutal sometimes. You have to show up and play the next day.”
There was speculation after Sunday's blowout loss about the Tigers bringing back ace Paul Skenes for a third start in Omaha. He threw a combined 243 pitches over 15 2/3 innings in two spectacular appearances, and he would have been working on three days' rest.
It turned out Skenes was able to watch from the dugout in the comfort of his sneakers while LSU poured on the runs and Hatcher kept dealing. Skenes headed to the bullpen to do some stretching and throwing in the seventh inning. He went back to the dugout after the eighth and stayed there until he and teammates rushed the mound when Guidry struck out Colby Halter to end it.
Skenes was named the Most Outstanding Player of the CWS.
The overwhelmingly partisan LSU crowd included Kim Mulkey, coach of the national champion women's basketball team and the mother of Kramer Robertson, who played shortstop on the 2017 team that lost to Florida in the CWS finals.
The Tigers had been pointing toward a title run since their first team meeting last August. Johnson brought back the Southeastern Conference player of the year in Crews and the rest of the core of the 2022 lineup.
Three key transfers took LSU to a higher level. Skenes was the first college pitcher in 12 years with 200 strikeouts and could be the No. 1 pick in the amateur draft. Tommy White hit 24 homers and drove in a nation-leading 105 runs. Hurd was solid as a starter and reliever and matched his longest outing of the year in the title game.
“Right people, right place, right time,” Johnson said. “This is the way it was supposed to go.”
LSU joined Mississippi, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt in a line of four straight national champions from the SEC.
“Oh my gosh, this is what I dreamed of since I was a freshman, holding this trophy,” Crews said. “We're champions, baby, bringing it back to LSU. It’s been a long journey for us. We dealt with a lot of stuff. Just to finally say we’re national champions ... I cannot wait to put another flag over the field. It’s going to be awesome.”
Florida (54-17) won the SEC regular-season title, was the No. 2 national seed and set school records for wins and home runs — the Gators hit 17 of the 35 homers by all teams in the CWS. But the Gators were unable to carry over the momentum from their record-setting production Sunday.
“I thought our team was in a really good place,” Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. “I thought BP was good. They were loose. Put two on the board the bottom half of the first. I thought the dugout was electric. And then all of a sudden we had four walks and I think two hit-by pitches ... and then we had to go to the ’pen earlier than we wanted to.”
Caglianone, Florida's two-way star, struggled with his command for a second straight start and was done on the mound after 1 1/3 innings. He remained in the game as the designated hitter.
LSU got on the board when Jordan Thompson, who had been 1 for his last 30, singled in a run. It was tied after Caglianone hit Cade Beloso — his fifth hit batter in his 5 2/3 CWS innings — and a walk to Crews put LSU in front. Cade Fisher relieved and gave up a couple RBI singles and a sacrifice fly.
Josh Pearson's fourth homer of the season highlighted the Tigers' four-run fourth inning.
The only down note for LSU was an injury to catcher Alex Milazzo, who landed awkwardly on his left leg when he had to hurdle Riopelle as he crossed home plate in the fourth inning.
That didn't stop Milazzo from celebrating. A teammate gave him a piggyback ride to the mound for the ceremonial dogpile.