Take it back to early April 1st this year when LSU dropped their second-straight SEC series. Caleb Gilbert came in to close against Texas A&M and gave up a three-run homer that cost them the game. LSU was 5-4, far from the team people would peg as a College World Series finalist.
A lot's changed since then. The exclamation point of the journey, so far, came on Saturday when Gilbert went 7.1 innings and allowed just one run against one of the best teams in college baseball history. His performance against Oregon State was the opportunity he's been waiting for.
"I've kind of had that fill-in role all year," says Gilbert. "When someone needs to be picked up, I go out there and try to pitch my game. When the team was on our heels in an elimination game to go to the College World Series finals, just went out there and put up zeroes and let the defense work behind me."
It was a bit of redemption from Monday's game where the Beavers beat the Tigers 13-1, though that was far from Gilbert's fault. He pitched well five days prior, but even better in the most important game of the season on Saturday.
"His role was to replace Eric Walker, and he went out there and pitched his heart out," says Mainieri. "It was an amazing performance. I wish I could tell you I went to bed last night dreaming he was going to go out there and give us seven shutout innings on one hit, but I couldn't even have dreamed that. Yet, he did it."
Gilbert took the same approach that Alex Lange did on Friday. He was relentless with his fastball and lived over the outside of the plate where he caught six of his seven strikeouts looking.
"I think I threw 90 percent fastballs just down and away and sinking a little bit," says Gilbert. "I was just trying to make them as uncomfortable as possible filling up the zone and getting in early counts and making them put it in play."
What Gilbert's performance means is we haven't seen the last of Jared Poche yet, and possibly Alex Lange as well, should the championship series go to game three. But the way LSU's playing right now, they'll be a tough out no matter who's on the mound.
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