Astros Draft pick helps LSU eliminate CWS' No. 1 seed

June 25th, 2017
LSU catcher Michael Papierski, a ninth-round pick of the Astros, homered from both sides of the plate on Saturday. (AP)

OMAHA, Neb. -- No. 1 national seed Oregon State opened the College World Series with two victories, running its winning streak to 23 games and improving its overall record to 56-4. All that stood between the Beavers and cementing their credentials as the best college team ever was winning the national championship.

That won't happen now, not after Louisiana State avenged a 13-1 defeat at the hands of Oregon State on Monday by eliminating the Beavers with wins Friday and Saturday. The Tigers limited the Beavers to a total of two runs and five hits over the last two days, riding the best performance of sophomore right-hander Caleb Gilbert's life and a pair of homers from junior catcher Michael Papierski to a 6-1 victory Saturday that clinched a berth in the CWS finals.

"We felt we could play with Oregon State," LSU coach Paul Maineri said. "No disrespect to them. We thought they had a great team. I've said that every step of the way. But I felt we had a good team as well. We just needed to play up to our ability and have the kids start to loosen up and have some fun, and we did."

The No. 4 national seed Tigers (52-18), who have won 20 of their last 21 games, will seek their seventh CWS championship and first since 2009 when the best-of-three championship series begins on Monday. They'll face the winner of tonight's semifinal between No. 3 national seed Florida (49-19) and No. 6 national seed Texas Christian (50-17).

Gilbert, who made his fifth start of the season and first since May 24 because freshman right-hander Eric Walker is sidelined with a forearm strain, set career highs for innings (7 1/3) and strikeouts (seven). Relying heavily on a 90-92 mph fastball and taking advantage of a generous strike zone, he allowed just one hit and one walk in the first seven innings before junior third baseman Michael Gretler (a 39th-round pick by the Pirates) chased him with a solo homer in the eighth.

"It's a surreal feeling to be able to pitch for your team when its back is against the wall in an elimination game into the College World Series final," said Gilbert, who had Tommy John surgery as a junior at Hoover (Ala.) High. "But I just had all the faith in the world in my teammates and my coaching staff, and I just really went out there and pitched my game. I tried to attack early with my heater and get ahead and just trust my defense behind me."

Papierski backed his batterymate by becoming the first player ever to homer twice in a CWS game since the event moved to TD Ameritrade Park in 2011 and the first to go deep twice in a CWS contest since Texas Christian's in 2010. He smacked a three-run shot off sophomore right-hander Bryce Fehmel batting left-handed to open the scoring in the second inning and hit a solo blast off freshman left-hander Brandon Eister hitting right-handed in the fourth.

A ninth-round choice by the Astros, Papierski said he never had homered from both sides of the plate in the same game at any level of baseball.

"I put some good swings on fastballs today and after that, the wind helped a little bit," said Papierski, who has gone deep four times in 10 NCAA playoff games this year. "But that wasn't the highlight of the game today. That was Caleb Gilbert. He went out there, went seven innings strong, made one mistake at the end but he was unbelievable today."

Though Oregon State fell short of a national title, it still posted the best winning percentage for an NCAA Division I baseball team in 42 years. The Beavers finished 56-6 for a .903 percentage that tied Texas' 1975 national champions for the fifth-best mark in D-I history (minimum 50 games).

"I think this is the first time in 70 games or something we've lost two games in a row," Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. "That's hard to do. These guys have really played their tails off. And I think to a man, they'd tell you that we've played better baseball, that's for sure. But I told them that there will be a time come here rather shortly that you'll realize what you did and how amazing of a season you had and how you guys fought through so many things."