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OXFORD, Miss. -- The setting couldn’t have been better for a big-time pitching matchup.
On one side of the field, you had Mississippi ace right-handed pitcher Bobby Wahl. Wahl wasn’t a significant contributor last season because of injuries and different roles. But as the ace this season, he hasn’t disappointed, entering Friday’s contest against LSU with a fantastic 2.09 ERA in 60 1/3 innings.
For the Tigers, you had hard-throwing right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman. Gausman had a good freshman campaign for the Tigers after spurning the Los Angeles Dodgers in the MLB draft two summers ago. But as a draft-eligible sophomore this season, he has turned the jets to another level, entering Friday’s game with a 3.12 ERA in 75 innings.
Though both Wahl and Gausman finished the contest with no decisions, and the Tigers snatched a huge 4-3 victory in 13 innings, the most impressive story in this game was just how tough the two talented righties competed against each other.
“I thought Kevin was outstanding, but anything short of outstanding stuff tonight, and we were going to lose. He had that little break in the eighth, but he was great,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “As for Wahl, I watched a lot of video on him, and it seemed like the more I watched, the less confident I was that we’d hit him tonight.”
The stakes were high in this matchup. The Rebels are on the outside looking in, for now, for an NCAA Regional host site. And it was important for Wahl to get the weekend started on a positive note. Meanwhile, the Tigers are aiming for one of those eight elusive national seeds.
On top of that pressure, Gausman had a little added pressure. He reportedly made comments local Louisiana media a couple of days ago about LSU’s prowess over Ole Miss, sparking a little extra sizzle from the Rebels dugout in tonight’s game.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough, several Major League Baseball organizations were represented tonight watching Gausman and Wahl. The Kansas City Royals had a representative, the New York Mets had two representatives, the Chicago Cubs had a representative and even Padres senior vice president Omar Minaya made the trip to watch the showdown between the two right-handed stalwarts.
The professional brass didn’t go home disappointed. The Royals, Cubs and Padres have picks No. 5, 6 and 7, respectively in the upcoming MLB draft. And though there could always be a surprise come June, chances are good Gausman won’t be on the board by then, as there’s at least some talk the Houston Astros could take him as the No. 1 overall pick, though, Byron Buxton’s name has been talked more about in that spot recently.
This also was a great opportunity for those organizations to get a closer look at Wahl. Wahl, not a draft-eligible sophomore like Gausman, is already one of the top prospects in college baseball. He’s ranked the No. 8 sophomore prospect behind other premier arms such as Gausman and Florida righty Karsten Whitson. However, like Gausman this year, he’s expected to be a first-rounder in the 2013 MLB draft.
“Wahl definitely has big-league caliber stuff out there. He’ll be a top rounder for sure. I mean, he could’ve really buckled in those early innings, but fought his way through some adversity. That was impressive,” Gausman said of his counterpart. “As for me, I felt comfortable throwing any of my pitchers. I was surprisingly pretty comfortable despite the fans being all over me. Especially early, I had everything working for me, good fastball, good split-change, good slider and a big key was being able to throw that slider in fastball counts. Being able to do that in fastball counts was huge.”
Gausman showed plus stuff throughout the game. He only struck out four batters, but also only allowed three runs on six hits in 7 2/3 innings of work.
Stuff-wise, Gausman was consistently 91-94 with his fastball, touching 95 at times, and even one 96. He touched 95 in the eighth inning. His power slider was consistently 84-86 while his split-change, which he admits still is a work in progress, was 79-81. Gausman threw a few curveballs, all in the 75-76 range, but not yet a refined pitch.
“I thought my stuff was pretty good. Probably the only thing I really need to work on right now is that curveball. That needs to be better,” Gausman said. “I also thought there were a few occasions where I had 0-2 or 1-2 counts, where I didn’t put a good enough put away pitch in there.”
Like Gausman, Wahl didn’t compile an amazing statistical line. But what he did for seven innings strong was work out of jams and hold a talented LSU offensive lineup at bay. Wahl finished the game with six strikeouts.
Stuff-wise, Wahl utilized primarily a three-pitch mix, hinging mainly on the fastball and changeup. Wahl was consistently 90-93 with his fastball in the early innings, even touching a few 94s on the radar gun at times. Meanwhile, he had a 78-81 changeup with terrific late break, while he threw the slider at 83-84.
Even with much at stake in the series opener of a huge SEC three-game set, in front of plenty of professional brass and a raucous crowd of 9,511, Kevin Gausman and Bobby Wahl showed why they’re premier pitchers to be cherished now and valued soon.
Gausman’s big day in the draft is coming soon. Wahl, though, is right behind him.