BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Whether hustling to turn an apparent single into a double or drilling a back-breaking home run in the late innings, JaCoby Jones has starting living up to his billing as a bona fide major league prospect again.
Just something else to worry about for the teams which have to play surging LSU in Omaha.
Jones had four hits, including a homer, and drove in two runs to help LSU beat Oklahoma 11-1 on Saturday night to advance to the College World Series for the 16th time.
"I saw him just be much more athletic the last two days, and you can see when he plays, the way he can play, he's a game changer with his speed, with his glove, with his bat," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said of Jones, who surprisingly hit below .300 this season. "Wouldn't it be awesome if he just gets really hot right now as we head down this stretch run."
LSU (57-9), which tied a single-season school record for victories, was already formidable before Jones' recent string of big hits, thanks to reliable pitching, excellent defense and clutch hitting throughout much of the lineup. Next up is UCLA in the College World Series.
In its Baton Rouge super regional clincher, LSU used four pitchers, who combined to limit the Sooners (43-21) to five hits and prevented Oklahoma from scoring after it had taken its only lead of the series, 1-0, in the bottom of the first inning.
Will LaMarche (3-0) got the win for the Tigers, who improved to 5-0 in the NCAA tournament.
Dillon Overton (9-3), Oakland's second-round pick in this week's Major League baseball draft, allowed four runs on seven hits before being lifted in the sixth inning.
Ryan Eades, also a second-round pick (by Minnesota), started for LSU, which was playing as the visitor in Game 2 of the best-of-three series. He was relieved by LaMarche to start the fifth inning following a weather-related delay.
Jones, who tripled in the eighth inning and scored the first run of LSU's 2-0 Game 1 win on Friday night, picked up on Saturday with a run-scoring single in the second inning that tied Game 2. In the fourth, Jones doubled and scored LSU's third run on Jared Foster's two-out single. His homer to left made it 5-1 in the eighth before LSU broke the game open with six runs in the ninth.
"I just feel really comfortable in the box," said Jones, a third-round draft choice. "I was just trying to do whatever I could to get on base for the team, use my legs and find some holes. ... I got four hits tonight and it feels good."
Rhymes was 2-for-4, including an RBI double in the top of the ninth. Tigers catcher Ty Ross had two hits and drove in three runs. Jones scored his third run of the game after being intentionally walked in the ninth.
Oklahoma arrived in Baton Rouge on an eight-game winning streak and with pitchers taken in the top two rounds of this week's MLB draft, only to hit a wall against one of the most storied programs in college baseball.
"It just wasn't meant to be this year," Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway said.
Riding a masterful performance by sophomore pitcher Aaron Nola, the Tigers won Game 1 in a pitchers' duel, breaking through late against Sooners ace Jonathan Gray, who was drafted third overall by Colorado.
LSU racked up 16 hits in Game 2 in clinching its first CWS berth since 2009. In doing so, LSU prolonged a streak in which no four-year senior has gone without at least one trip to Omaha since 1982. The possibility of that streak ending became a story line when LSU was upset in the super regional round by Stony Brook one year ago.
"It's been a long 365 days," Mainieri said. "This does take away some of the bitter taste that we had.
"You are always happy to go to Omaha and people don't quite understand how hard it is to get there," the coach continued. "We are going there to win and I believe we can. We have a great group of guys that are very talented and are on a mission."
Oklahoma scored its only run of the series with one out in the first inning, when Max White lined a 3-2 pitch to right field to score Craig Aikin, who'd led off with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt.
LSU followed the same fundamentally sound recipe to tie the game in the top of the second, with Rhymes' leadoff single, Christian Ibarra's sacrifice bunt and Jones' RBI single.
The Sooners' fundamentals left them in the top of the third, however. Right fielder Haley Hunter let Mark Laird's lined single bounce off his glove and into the right field corner for a two-base error.
Alex Bregman followed with a grounder that first-baseman Matt Oberste booted as Laird came home to make it 2-1.
"We made a few mistakes early and they capitalized. That's what good teams do," Golloway said. "We thought we had a chance to get to their starter early on. ... We just needed a key hit here or there, but that's baseball."
In the top of the fourth, Jones' aggressive — if not risky — base running turned what looked like a lined single to center into a double. He took third on a ground out and scored on Foster's two-out single.
After four innings, the game was delayed 52 minutes by a severe weather warning. Although the grounds crew pre-emptively covered the infield with a tarp, and fans were encouraged to leave Alex Box Stadium and take shelter in their cars, the weather threat never materialized. Many fans left their seats but lingered in concourses while pleasant weather prevailed throughout the delay.
The Tigers then pushed a fourth run across in the top of the sixth on Ross' squeeze bunt, which scored Rhymes.