OMAHA, Neb. — LSU is within a win of the College World Series finals, and Louis Coleman is pumped.
“We get to go to the zoo,” the Tigers’ star pitcher said with a big smile after a 9-1 victory over Arkansas on Monday night.
A visit to the renowned Omaha zoo, across the street from Rosenblatt Stadium, is only part of the reward the Tigers earned for winning.
No. 3-seeded LSU (53-16) gets three days off while Virginia (49-14-1) and Arkansas (40-23) play an elimination game Wednesday to see which team meets the Tigers in the Bracket 1 final.
The Cavaliers and Razorbacks face the prospect of having to win three games to reach the best-of-three finals next week.
LSU must win only one more time, on Friday or Saturday.
Earlier Monday, Virginia defeated Cal State Fullerton 7-5, making the No. 2-seeded Titans the first team eliminated.
Play resumes Tuesday in Bracket 2. North Carolina (47-17) plays Southern Mississippi (40-25) in an elimination game in the afternoon. No. 1 seed Texas (47-14-1) squares off with Arizona State (50-12) at night, with the winner taking control of the bracket.
Mikie Mahtook, Austin Nola and Blake Dean hit home runs for LSU against the Hogs. The Tigers have hit five home runs in two CWS games and have 99 for the season, one short of last year’s total.
Coleman, the SEC pitcher of the year, scattered six hits over six innings, allowing one run and striking out seven.
“It’s a coach’s dream right now, how these guys are conducting themselves as far as their vision of the game and their demeanor,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “They’re a very confident group right now. Let’s take a few days off and get ready for Friday.”
The Tigers turned on the power early against Arkansas starter Brett Eibner. Mahtook hit a three-run homer in the first, and Eibner (5-5) got pulled after Ryan Schimpf’s double put LSU up 4-1 with two outs in the second.
TJ Forrest kept the Tigers quiet until the sixth, when they erupted for five more runs — four of them with two outs. The normally light-hitting Nola turned on a fastball for his third homer of the season and Dean hammered his 16th deep into the right-field seats.
“It happened real quick,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “We had a chance to get out of it, and then bang. They’ve got some pop.”
Arkansas’ Andy Wilkins said he and his teammates have shown the ability to survive tough circumstances. The Hogs lost 10 of 14 entering the national tournament, then rolled off six wins before losing Monday.
“We’re not out of it,” Wilkins said. “We’ve been fighting all year, showing character all year. We know it’s not over and that we’re still capable of winning it. That’s the mind set we’re going to have.”
Virginia trumped another ace in its win over Fullerton.
The Cavaliers beat All-American Daniel Renken two weeks after defeating San Diego State star and No. 1 overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg in the regionals.
Virginia scored four times against Renken in the second inning, and he was finished in the sixth after allowing a season-high six runs.
“To put up four runs on an All-America pitcher like Renken is a great inning for us and, believe me, I wanted more,” Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor said.
The Cavs did get more, which was a good thing for them because Fullerton had the winning run at the plate in the ninth inning before Virginia secured its first win in Omaha.
Renken (11-3), who had gone at least eight innings in 10 of his previous 11 starts, was taken out after Franco Valdes’ two-out double in the sixth. Nick Ramirez came on and gave up a pair of RBI singles that made it a four-run game.
“I’m pretty upset with myself today for falling behind on counts and not sticking to my game plan,” Renken said. “It was inexcusable for me. Virginia is a good team, but I made them look a lot better. That’s my fault. I’ll come back next year and prove I shouldn’t have done that.”
Dustin Garneau’s two-run homer off Virginia starter Robert Morey put Fullerton up 2-0 in the second inning. Virginia took the lead for good in the bottom half by scoring four times.
Virginia used five pitchers, with Andrew Carray (9-1) getting the win.
Fullerton saw its troubles in Omaha continue after breezing through regionals and super regionals.
“This wasn’t the same team we saw the last five or six weeks of the season,” coach Dave Serrano said. “No excuses, though. We were beaten fair and square. We didn’t play a very good game today.”
Eric Olson/The Associated Press