HOOVER, Ala. – The matchup Thursday night between 2-seed LSU and 3-seed Kentucky featured the SEC Pitcher of the Year against another first-team All-SEC flamethrower. However, you wouldn’t know which is which from the performance.
LSU’s Alex Lange drastically overshadowed pitcher of the year Kentucky right-hander Sean Hjelle. In a seven-inning game shortened by run rule, Lange threw a complete game shutout. He allowed just 6 hits in 7 innings as part of a 10-0 victory. It’s especially impressive when considering that Kentucky is the league’s highest-scoring team by a considerable margin.
“He just looks really good out there,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “His mechanics look really tight. He’s pitching with a lot of confidence.”
The performance dropped Lange’s season ERA to 2.59, far better than Hjelle’s 3.87. Batters are also hitting just .234 against Lange, compared to .241 against Hjelle. Lange’s 118 strikeouts lead the SEC. Only Florida’s Alex Faedo, a top-10 MLB draft prospect, is even close in that category. It’s no wonder Lange is developing into a first-round MLB prospect.
“Listen, Hjelle is a really good pitcher and very deserving of the SEC Pitcher of the Year award. But to be honest, I think Alex Lange has had the kind of year that’s worth of pitcher of the year, too,” Mainieri said.
Really, the only significant difference between the two resumes were in the win-loss column. Lange posted just a 7-5 regular-season record. However, Mainieri wants people to know that the record was not Lange’s fault.
“We didn’t give him the run support when he was up on Friday nights,” Mainieri said. “We got shut out two or three times. It wasn’t because of Alex. If we had turned around two or three of those games, maybe he’s taking home the hardware.”
On Thursday, however, LSU’s bats did their part too. The Tigers scored 10 runs on 11 hits off Hjelle, including 9 earned. Every starting position player got a hit off Hjelle. LSU shortstop Kramer Robertson put the game away with a 3-run home run in the fifth inning.
But while his teammates and coach are willing to stand up for him, Lange doesn’t want to diminish what Hjelle did this season.
“We kind of tipped our hats to each other before we started throwing in warmups,” Lange said. “[Hjelle is] a good pitcher. We’ve all had a night like that before. He competed well, but it’s nice to get that win.”
His exceptional performance came at a tremendously important time. By beating Kentucky, LSU booked a ticket to the semifinal round on Saturday. That gave the Tigers an extra day of rest and meant the team could save their second and third starters for the semis and final. When it comes to jockeying for a national seed, the extra day of rest could be critical.
“[Lange is] one of the best pitchers in the country,” Robertson said. “There’s honestly not a guy I’d rather have on the mound than him.”
Notable SEC pitchers
|Alex Lange (LSU)||2.59||97.1||.234||118||15||8-5|
|Sean Hjelle (UK)||3.87||93.0||.241||91||15||9-3|
|Brady Singer (UF)||2.67||97.2||.235||89||14||7-3|
|Alex Faedo (UF)||2.8||.96.1||.225||113||15||7-2|
|Kyle Wright (VAN)||2.91||89.2||.206||104||14||4-5|
|Brigham Hill (A&M)||2.96||85||.238||95||14||7-3|
|Tanner Houck (MIZ)||3.33||94.2||.220||95||14||4-7|