OMAHA, Nebraska -- Paul Skenes was masterful on the mound for seven full innings and part of the eighth as LSU beat Tennessee, 6-3, on Saturday night in the College World Series opener for both teams at Charles Schwab Field.
Two days after being named winner of the 2023 Dick Howser Trophy, given annually to the most outstanding player in NCAA Division I baseball, Skenes showed why in front of a rowdy sellout crowd of 25,010.
"At different points I had all four pitches working," Skenes said. "I mean, you have to look at obviously their lineup but also what's working for me. And I went out there and made pitches, kind of threw what they weren't expecting at times and it worked pretty well."
That is a massive understatement.
Skenes was dominant until the Volunteers finally drove him from the game in the top of the eighth to make it interesting. He threw 46 pitches over 100 miles per hour while giving up five hits and two runs over 7.2 innings. He struck out 12 and walked just one.
"I'm really proud of him," LSU coach Jay Johnson said of Skenes. "I certainly don't take these outings for granted. But that's about the 16th one that we've seen like that."
A transfer from Air Force in his first and what will be his only season with LSU, the 6-foot-6 Skenes ended the night with 200 strikeouts -- just three short of setting the all-time single-season record for a pitcher in the SEC.
"I'm really proud of him for tonight because he had a lot on his plate here," Johnson added. "And all great things with the Dick Howser award. But it took a lot of time and effort -- and what a great honor. He just showed tonight why he was probably the clear-cut winner for that award. We tried to get him some rest and insulate him as best we could so he could be on track with his preparation because he does that better than anybody else.
"As good as the performance is, the preparation is even better. I think what gets lost with him sometimes because his stuff is so amazing, the pitch execution is tremendous. And when you put that kind of stuff with that kind of execution, you have Paul Skenes."
Gavin Dugas and Brayden Jobert homered for the Tigers, who surged to a 5-0 lead and looked totally in control with Skenes still on the mound. Jobert went 3-for-4 overall and also had an RBI triple.
But the Vols did not go quietly into the night, rallying for their only three runs in the eighth. With one out, Christian Scott doubled to center and scored on an RBI single by Maui Ahuna one out later, after which Gavin Guidry replaced Skenes. Hunter Ensley promptly greeted Guidry with a two-run homer, pulling the Vols within 5-3 and briefly giving them life.
It got snuffed out quickly when Jobert hit a solo homer in the bottom half of the inning to extend the LSU lead to 6-3.
"I was just trying to get the ball up, stay at the bottom of the zone," Jobert said of his bomb. "That was something that I needed to improve from last weekend. And that was the focus in BP and all the training going into this week. So it was just sticking to my plan, following what our coaches tell us, and it worked out positive for me."
Riley Cooper came on for Guidry to get the final out of the eighth and the last three in the ninth, earning his first save of the season and preserving the win for Skenes, who improved to 13-2.
LSU got on the board first when Dugas launched a long home run, his 16th of the season, over the left-field wall in the bottom of the second. The Tigers added a second run an inning later, playing small ball when Josh Pearson and Dylan Crews led off the inning with back-to-back singles and Pearson eventually came around to score on a Tre' Morgan groundout.
That 2-0 advantage seemed like a 20-0 lead at the time with Skenes on the mound.
He needed 20 pitches to retire the Volunteers in the first inning, but then seemed to sail effortlessly through the next six innings. He did not throw pitch No. 100 until late in the seventh inning.
"Obviously Paul's really good," Tennessee's Griffin Merritt said. "There's no other way to put it. And he was on his game tonight. He was executing his game plan. And when you face a guy like that you need a couple of breaks to go your way."
Skenes ended up throwing 121 pitches, including another eight that exceeded 100 mph in velocity in his final two-thirds of a inning.
When the Tigers added two runs in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI triple by Jobert and an infield single by Jordan Thompson -- and yet another insurance run in the seventh on a hustling double by Crews, a single by Tommy White and a sacrifice fly by Morgan that scored Crews -- the 5-0 LSU lead for Skenes truly seemed insurmountable.
The Volunteers would not go away, however, rallying for the three runs in the top of the eighth that got Skenes out of the game and temporarily drew them seemingly within striking distance at 5-3.
But Jobert's home run to right in the bottom half of the inning quickly got one of those runs back, and Cooper then got the final four outs while allowing just one baserunner and striking out two.
HOW IT HAPPENED
B2 | With one out, Dugas homered to left. LSU 1, Tennessee 0.
B3 | Pearson and Crews led off the inning with back-to-back singles to right. Tommy White grounded out to the pitcher, advancing Pearson to third and Crews to second. Morgan then grounded out, scoring Pearson. LSU 2, Tennessee 0.
B6 | Travinski walked and one out later advanced to second on a wild pitch. Jobert tripled to deep center, scoring Travinski. Thompson reached on infield single to shortstop, scoring Jobert. LSU 4, Tennessee 0.
B7 | With new Tennessee pitcher Camden Sewell on the mound, Crews doubled and White singled, moving Crews to third. Morgan hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Crews. LSU 5, Tennessee 0.
T8 | With one out, Scott doubled to center. Another out later, Ahuna singled to shallow center, scoring Scott. Gavin Guidry relieved starting pitcher Skenes for LSU. Ensley launched a two-run homer to left center. LSU 5, Tennessee 3.
B8 | With one out, Jobert homered to right. LSU 6, Tennessee 3.
National 5-seed LSU (49-15) advances to a winner's bracket game Monday at 7 p.m. ET vs. Wake Forest. It will be televised by ESPN.
Tennessee (43-21) will face Stanford in an elimination game Monday at 2 p.m. ET, also to be televised on ESPN.