Gausman battles for LSU win

If you look at the box score, it was a routine night for LSU ace Kevin Gausman.

The Tigers' soon-to-be first round MLB draft pick pitched eight innings and allowed just one run in LSU's convincing defeat of Oregon State on Saturday night.

But for the SEC's strikeout leader with 128 batters punched out -- he of the 2.72 ERA -- the 7-1 victory was a painstaking grind compared to the effortless outings the sophomore is used to. Gausman allowed at least one base runner in seven of the eight innings he pitched. When he didn't give up hits (seven on the night), he walked batters or hit them. Even when he did force an out, the Beavers ran his pitch count to an astronomical 129 -- 61 after just three innings.

And for a pitcher accustomed to striking out dozens of batters, Gausman could only get three Beaver batters to go down swinging.

"I give all the credit to (Oregon State); they didn't chase a lot," Gausman said. "I think that was the scouting report they had on me. They didn't chase anything -- they made you throw a lot of strikes."

With a record crowd of 10,367 fans in attendance at Alex Box Stadium, the stage seemed set for Gausman to mow through the side. At least until he struggled through the first frame, facing runners on the corners and needing 22 pitches to get out of the jam.

The third inning was just as frustrating, when he needed 10 pitches to breeze through the first two Oregon State batters, before allowing three straight base hits and his only run of the night.

"He didn't have a one-two-three inning until about the sixth inning," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "It was a struggle for him, but he just kept fighting and fighting."

The Beavers made sure he had to. Oregon State coach Pat Casey said it was his team's plan to make Gausman labor, and it worked. After his 22-pitch first inning, Gausman needed 27 pitches to get through his bumpy third. But Casey pointed out that when the Beavers needed a clutch hit, they never got it.

"He only struck out three, but a couple of our guys got away from (the gameplan) and it seemed like they were the ones up with guys in scoring position," Casey said.

As the game wore on, Oregon State buckled. The Beavers put 11 runners on base in their nine at-bats, and one crossed the plate. After his lapse in the third inning, Gausman only allowed one other runner to reach third base.

Despite the steadily increasing pitch count, Gausman said he felt good. In the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, he sat down the Beavers, needing just eight, 15 and 14 pitches, respectively.

"Obviously that's frustrating," said Oregon State third baseman Ryan Dunn on his team's inability to chase the LSU ace. "You want to get him out of there as quick as possible. We hit some balls hard, but we just couldn't follow through."

Said Mainieri: "Today, maybe he wasn't as sharp as he's been in previous weeks. He just showed another side of himself -- how he could just battle through not being as fine as he normally is. A kid with lesser mental toughness would have probably started to pout and feel sorry for himself and let things get out of control."

Gausman has long been projected as a first round pick, and some mock drafts have him going as high as No. 4 overall. As much as scouts would love to see the Tigers' ace breeze through the postseason, perhaps it adds another facet to his value to see Gausman grind down a lineup like he did Saturday.

Of course, when asked about his professional future after the game, Gausman showed a bit more big league value -- he dodged the question deftly. For the next two days at least, he remains focused on the Tigers, who he helped to the cusp of a super regional.

"This is who I'm playing for right now, and a big goal for me is to win a national championship -- so that's where all my focus is," he said. "Obviously it's going to be an exciting day for me and my family. But right now I'm focused on being a cheerleader tomorrow and helping my team get to the next stage on this long road to Omaha."