Strong pitching propels LSU past Tennessee

OMAHA, Neb. – Nate Ackenhausen had not toed the rubber for LSU since the team’s NCAA Tournament regional game against Oregon State on June 5.

He allowed two runs in 1 2/3 innings of relief in that contest. Yet, in a must-win situation, LSU coach Jay Johnson turned to the reliever to start against Tennessee on Tuesday night.

Ackenhausen exceeded expectations in his first start of the season. Johnson hoped to get three innings out of Ackenhausen. Instead, he pitched a season-high six innings and notched seven strikeouts to shutout Tennessee 5-0 in a College World Series elimination game at Charles Schwab Field.

“Maybe a surprise, from a name, from a starter but not a surprise performance,” Johnson said. “Every game he’s pitched in this year I think we’ve only lost one time when he’s pitched the entire year. I look for those things. He did a great job executing.”

LSU ace Paul Skenes and No. 2 starter Ty Floyd were not available to start after pitching in LSU’s first two games of the College World Series. Johnson didn’t have a clear option for Tuesday’s contest, knowing it would likely be a bullpen game.

Johnson didn’t turn to his bullpen until the seventh inning. Ackenhausen, who had not pitched more than 3 2/3 inning in an outing this season, was brilliant against Tennessee.

The 6-foot-2, 240-pound lefty had great command of his pitch mix, making it difficult for the Volunteers to square him up. In his shutout performance, he allowed four hits and zero walks. He started the seventh inning but exited after hitting the leadoff batter.

“The changeup was really working for me,” Ackenhausen said. “I know with the wind blowing in and how hard it is to hit a ball out of here. … I had confidence in my defense around me.”

The Volunteers had chances to end the Tigers’ shutout bid. Maui Ahuna lined a double to the left-center field warning track in the fifth inning to put runners on second and third with two outs.

Johnson came out for a mound visit to check on Ackenhausen. The breather benefited Ackenhausen, as he got Hunter Ensley to hit a weak fly ball to right field to end the scoring threat.

“I wanted to check on him in terms of the fatigue level and heartbeat level,” Johnson said. “As you can see, he doesn’t get too wound up or rattled over anything.”

Ackenhausen cruised through six innings and came out for the seventh. On his third pitch of the frame, Ackenhausen hit leadoff hitter Blake Burke. It marked Ackenhausen’s final hitter, with Johnson turning to lefty Riley Cooper.

Johnson brought in Cooper, as he felt he offered a similar look as Ackenhausen. Cooper ran into trouble right away. With two outs, LSU shortstop Jordan Thompson juggled a routine ground ball. The mishap resulted in the Volunteers loading the bases.

The Volunteers failed to capitalize on the error, with Ensley hitting a ground ball to LSU first baseman Tre’ Morgan for the final out of the inning.

The Tigers extended their lead on a wild pitch in the eighth inning. Dylan Crews knocked a two-run home run into the Tigers’ right-field bullpen to give them insurance runs in the ninth.

“The wind was pushing some balls back into play today,” Crews said. “But it was good to kind of just get one out at the right moment and put us up a couple more runs in the ninth. Just extend the lead.”

Tennessee sophomore righty Drew Beam received the starting nod and pitched well. He allowed two runs on six hits and two walks while striking out nine batters in 5 2/3 innings.

The Volunteers finished the season with a 44-22 record after entering the season as the No. 2-ranked team. It was lofty expectations for the Volunteers, who had to replace their entire starting lineup from last year. They started slow but picked up steam to make a run in the tournament and advance to the College World Series for the second time in three years.

On Wednesday, the Tigers will face Wake Forest at 6 p.m. in a must-win game. The Tigers need to beat Wake Forest on Wednesday and Thursday to advance to the championship series, otherwise, their season will end.

Dan Zielinski III
Dan Zielinski III
Dan Zielinski III is the creator of the Baseball Prospect Journal and has covered the MLB draft since 2015. His draft work originally appeared on, a sports website he started in December 2011. He also covered the Milwaukee Brewers as a member of the credentialed media for four years. Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.

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