Surprise! Little-used lefty bails out LSU, shuts down Tennessee

OMAHA, Nebraska — Nate Ackenhausen saved the Tigers’ season.

In Tuesday night’s College World Series elimination game against Tennessee, LSU’s junior lefty got the surprise start and put on an awe-inspiring performance on the mound inside Charles Schwab Field.

Despite not having started a game since 2022 when he played for Eastern Oklahoma State Community College, Ackenhausen was dominant on the biggest stage for the Tigers.

Ackenhausen scattered four hits over a season-high six innings of shutout ball, while striking out seven Volunteers and giving up no walks.

That performance helped lead LSU to a 5-0 victory over Tennessee, as the Tigers defeated the Vols for the second time in three nights in Omaha.

With LSU’s two best arms not available due to having already thrown at the CWS, second-year skipper Jay Johnson desperately needed someone to go out there on the bump Tuesday and at least eat up some innings.

But no one could have imagined that Ackenhausen would have been the one to deliver that – and more.

For one, there was plenty of chatter of LSU using the ole “Johnny Wholestaff” approach — which is using as many arms as possible to get the victory.

Secondly, Ackenhausen had pitched a grand total of 22.1 innings in 15 appearances this season. His last outing was a brief one as he gave up two runs on two hits in 1 2/3 innings against Oregon State in the Baton Rouge Regional.

Thirdly, no pitcher in LSU history had made their first start for the Purple and Gold at the College World Series. No one.  

So Tiger fans braced themselves to see everyone from Ackenhausen to Gavin Guidry to even the embattled and slightly used of late Blake Money and Christian Little.

Johnson himself indicated to reporters as much after Monday’s 3-2 defeat to Wake Forest, when he said that he had nine pitchers he could use in Tuesday’s contest.

Ackenhausen made sure his skipper didn’t have to empty the chamber.

As a result, Johnson can now use Javeon Coleman, Griffin Herring and others in another elimination game this evening at 6 — this time, a rematch against top seed Wake Forest, who edged the Tigers 3-2 Monday.

Yes, credit needs to be bestowed on Riley Cooper who came in to relieve Ackenhausen with a runner on first base in the seventh and got out of the inning unscathed and closed out the game.

And yes, the Tigers took advantage of Vols’ miscues, scoring a run on an error and another on a wild pitch. Dylan Crews’ two-run home run in the ninth didn’t hurt either.

But none of those key moments would have mattered without Ackenhausen — the young man who saved LSU’s season on Tuesday night. 

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