OMAHA, Nebraska — Jay Johnson seized the moment.
The LSU skipper had just witnessed his team take down top seed Wake Forest with a walkoff home run in the 11th inning at the College World Series. With a thrilling victory, the Tigers are two wins away from bringing home the program’s first national championship since 2009.
Johnson made sure to take advantage with a message not to the Tiger fan base or media members. Instead, he targeted his words towards players — those in the NCAA Transfer Portal.
“If you’re one of the best players in the transfer portal, there’s only one place,” Johnson said.
In two short years, Johnson has guided the Tigers to the CWS championship round and has done so by mastering the portal.
His portal prowess was on full display yet again Thursday night at Charles Schwab Field, minutes after LSU bested Wake Forest 2-0 in an instant classic that lived up to the hype and then some.
Also living up to the hype were the duo of Paul Skenes and Tommy White.
Skenes took the bump for the Tigers in an elimination game and was dominant yet again.
Pitching on four days’ rest, Skenes threw eight scoreless innings of two-hit ball while striking out nine Demon Deacons. His third punchout set the new LSU and Southeastern Conference record for most strikeouts in a single season.
For good measure, Skenes even received a congratulatory tweet from the previous record holder and LSU legend himself, Ben McDonald.
In his two appearances in this CWS, Skenes has thrown 243 pitches while giving up two runs on seven hits while striking out 20 batters.
White was not to be outdone, as he got out of his CWS slump in a legendary way.
Tommy Tanks entered the game having gone 4-for-17 with one run scored and five strikeouts in the CWS. After getting on base twice (double and intentional walk) but left stranded, Tanks wasn’t going to wait around on someone else in the lineup to drive him home in the 11th.
He smashed the first pitch he saw and gleefully watched it land into the left field bleachers for the walk-off home run.
Even though White’s’ home run blast may not quite have the significance of say Warren Morris’ World Series-winning walk off against Miami to win it all, the extra-inning blast will undoubtedly go down in lore nonetheless.
It isn’t a surprise that LSU’s heroics came courtesy of All-Americans like Skenes and White, but they wouldn’t be delivering those iconic performances if Johnson hadn’t recruited them out of the portal.
Would LSU even have made it to Omaha without Air Force transfer Skenes’ 13 wins and 200-plus strikeouts? Of course not.
Would the Tigers have made it without NC State transfer White’s 23 home runs and 100 RBI. You already know the answer.
It wasn’t just the marquee names like Skenes and White that have been instrumental for this run in Omaha.
Even though he may not have pitched on Thursday, LSU wouldn’t be advancing to its first championship series since 2017 if it wasn’t for the key contributions of another transfer — relief pitcher Riley Cooper.
A transfer from Johnson’s former program, Arizona – Cooper has had rough outings this season and even rougher comments made about his husky build — but he has been key in this CWS.
In three appearances, Cooper has pitched 5.1 scoreless innings, giving up only three hits and striking out five.
Johnson’s ability to adapt to not only recruiting high school stars, but also coveted and already developed college stars, has been instrumental to LSU knocking on the door of a national championship.
Will LSU seize the opportunity? We will find out the answer to that question this weekend but it is safe to say that one of Johnson’s portal recruits will likely have a hand or two in that outcome.
Contact Raymond at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RPIII_Sports