As the weather delay ended, Thatcher Hurd warmed up like a starter. There had been a chance he would enter this game in relief anyway, but the wait let him go through his entire routine. Out there on the right field warning track, he prepared to pitch as if LSU and Oregon State had not already played three innings.
When Hurd entered Sunday night, three hours had passed since an incoming storm paused the most pivotal game of the Baton Rouge regional. The delay made LSU pull starting pitcher Ty Floyd. It turned to Hurd, and he delivered perhaps the best outing of his career in a 6-5 win to reach the regional championship.
“That’s one of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said.
Hurd lasted five innings and notched a season-high 12 strikeouts, which matched his career-high set last season at UCLA. He was not perfect, allowing two home runs, but he provided much-needed length and prevented Oregon State from ever taking control while the Tigers hit five home runs. They now have their full bullpen available Monday when they try to clinch the regional.
The performance was vital with Floyd forced out after 71 pitches. Floyd allowed a solo home run in the third inning, then avoided potential trouble later in the inning when Oregon State put runners on the corners with one out. LSU trailed 1-0 as the storm rolled through.
Hurd began preparing as soon as LSU announced there was lightning in the area. Johnson said he was available Friday and in this game, knowing bad weather could shape the schedule.
“There was a point in time where we could potentially get Ty back out there versus the point where you couldn’t do that,” Johnson said, “and the delay just became too long to put him back out there.”
But Hurd’s outing started rough. The first batter he faced, Brady Kasper, hit a fly ball that carried over the left field wall.
“So what?” Hurd said. “We’re going to come back. Keep making pitches.”
The next one doubled and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt. LSU brought the infield in, trying to prevent a run, and Hurd induced a ground ball. It bounced between first baseman Tre Morgan and shortstop Jordan Thompson into an open space. Thompson, who was playing second base in a shift, grabbed the ball and spun, trying to throw out the runner at home. It careened into the backstop as Oregon State took a 3-0 lead.
Hurd struck out the next two batters. Then he struck out three straight in the fifth inning before LSU took the lead in the bottom of the frame. Mixing speeds, Hurd struck out at least two batters in every inning he pitched. At least four of his first six came on a 78 mph curveball, a pitch Hurd used effectively throughout the night.
“Really good feel for that pitch tonight,” Hurd said. “The depth and the differential off the fastball and the slider was good in put-away counts.”
With LSU leading 5-3 in the seventh, Hurd allowed a leadoff single. Two batters later, freshman Gavin Turley smashed a game-tying home run to straight away center field. The inning began to slip away as the next two batters reached, and Johnson visited the mound as relievers began warming up in the bullpen.
“Not only did we need outs, we needed length,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think they were picking him up. It was a great swing by Turley, obviously. The rest of them, he kind of scattered the hits, even the first homer. So I liked how he was executing, and for me it just made more sense to stay with him.”
And with the game in the balance, Hurd struck out the next two hitters. He then pitched a scoreless eighth before freshman Gavin Guidry closed the win. LSU has used four pitchers in two games, saving the rest of the bullpen for the regional championship.
“Thatcher came out and gave us a brilliant performance,” Johnson said. “He’s the best pitcher in the country tonight.”