2009 NCAA Regional Preview: Baton Rouge

Louisiana State hosts the Baton Rouge Regional as the No. 3 national seed. The Tigers take on Southern in the opening game Friday at 1 p.m., and Baylor meets Minnesota in the nightcap at 6 p.m.

The losing teams from those games meet in an elimination game Saturday at 1 p.m., while the winners meet Saturday at 6 p.m. with a berth in the championship game on the line. Game times remain the same on Sunday, and if necessary, a seventh game will be played Monday at a time to be announced.

LSU won both the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament championships, while Southern earned its berth by winning the SWAC tournament. Minnesota joins Indiana and Ohio State out of the Big Ten, while Baylor is one of eight teams representing the Big 12.

The winner of the Baton Rouge Regional will match up with the winner of the Houston Regional. Rice holds the top seed in Houston, followed by Kansas State, Xavier and Sam Houston State.

No. 1 seed – Louisiana State (46-16, 20-10 SEC)

By winning the Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament titles, the Tigers secured the No. 3 national seed. While LSU has some impressive wins, it also has had a few disappointing losses that could provide hope to any team intimidated by the thought of taking on the Tigers in “The Box.”

The Tigers started 9-0 before dropping two of three to Illinois on their home field. They also dropped a pair of home games to Tennessee, and suffered midweek losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and Nicholls State. That said, this team has built an impressive resume. After dropping their first game of the SEC tournament to Vanderbilt, the Tigers won five straight to claim the SEC automatic bid. In those five games, LSU beat Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia (twice) and Vanderbilt.

LSU has lost just two series all season, and the Tennessee series was the only time the Tigers lost back-to-back games.

The Tigers have eight starters hitting .310 or better, and they have belted 89 home runs as a team. Additionally, LSU outscores opponents by an average of nearly 3.5 runs per game.

Junior outfielder Blake Dean (.327, 14, 62), Junior infielder Ryan Schimpf (.324, 17, 56) and sophomore outfielder Leon Landry (.314, 12, 41) supply most of the power. Dean has drawn 42 walks while striking out just 28 times, and Schimpf is 17-24 stealing bases. Junior outfielder Jared Mitchell has stolen 30 bags in 37 tries.

On the mound, LSU has a trio of starters that can compete with any rotation in the nation. Louis Coleman boasts an 11-2 record with a 2.84 ERA. Opponents hit just .214 against the senior right hander, and he has issued just 19 walks against 111 strikeouts in 98.1 innings.

Sophomore right-handers Anthony Ranaudo (8-3, 3.29) and Austin Ross (5-7, 5.15) round out the rotation. Ranaudo leads the staff with 124 strikeouts and a .208 opponents’ batting average. LSU’s opponents will need to get to these three early, as the Tigers have one of the best closers in college baseball with freshman righty Matty Ott.

Ott (3-2, 2.27) has posted 14 saves in 32 appearances out of the bullpen. In 43.2 innings, he has recorded 61 strikeouts against just four walks.

The Tigers play the first game of the Baton Rouge Regional, taking on Southern at 1 p.m. Friday. LSU used a five-run eighth inning to put the game away when it knocked off the Jaguars 11-5 on Feb. 25.

Louisiana State Stats

No. 2 seed – Minnesota (38-17, 17-6 Big Ten)

Minnesota secured an at-large bid by advancing to the Big Ten tournament title game, where it fell to Indiana 13-2. The Golden Gophers have some impressive wins on their resume. They took two of three at Texas Christian, then swept a three-game series at Dallas Baptist and took two from Ohio State in conference play.

Head coach John Anderson won the 1,000th game of his career in a 7-6 win at Penn State two weeks ago. The Golden Gophers dropped the opener of their conference tournament to Indiana, but they rebounded to win three straight, including a win against tournament-host Ohio State to reach the title game.

Junior middle infielder Derrick McCallum (.404, 17, 79) leads Minnesota in all three categories. He gets on base at a .482 clip and boasts a .737 slugging percentage. Sophomore outfielder/catcher Michael Kvasnicka (.351, 9, 62) and freshman first baseman Nick O’Shea (.291, 10, 41) combine with McCallum to produce 36 of the Golden Gophers’ 51 home runs. Senior outfielder Matt Nohelty leads the team in runs (64) and stolen bases (25).

Three right-handed pitchers have made 42 of 55 starts for Minnesota. Senior Tom Buske (9-3, 3.36), sophomore Seth Rosin (7-1, 4.08) and senior Chauncy Handran (7-3, 4.30) have all started 14 games.  Buske is holding opponents to a .220 batting average and has pitched the Gophers’ only complete game of the season.

Like LSU, Minnesota has a reliable closer to finish the job should the starters work deep into the game. Scott Matyas (0-1, 2.49) has 14 saves in 21 relief appearances.  Matyas boasts 40 strikeouts against just seven walks in 25.1 innings of work. Tim Ryan (1-2, 3.44) and Luke Rasmussen (4-0, 3.86) also have impressive numbers out of the bullpen.

Minnesota hasn’t met any of the other teams in the Baton Rouge Regional, but they did sweep a three-game series at Dallas Baptist, who knocked off Baylor in a midweek game later in the season.

Minnesota Stats

No. 3 seed – Baylor (29-24, 10-16 Big 12)

Baylor’s selection as one of eight teams taken from the Big 12 has become a hot topic, but the Bears’ resume is impressive. The biggest knock on the Bears is that they lost 10 straight conference games to end the season, but a 2-1 showing at the Big 12 tournament, with wins over Texas and Kansas, was enough to keep their season going.

The Bears’ non-conference slate was one of the toughest in the nation. Baylor won two of three at the Houston College Classic, including a win against UCLA freshman phenom Gerrit Cole. The next week the Bears won at Texas Christian and at home against top-ranked UC Irvine. They later won midweek games at Texas State and at home against Texas Christian.

However, conference play was a struggle. A loss in the second game of a rain-shortened series at Oklahoma State started the longest conference losing streak in program history. When the Bears were swept at Nebraska to end the season, they had lost 10 consecutive Big 12 games. Six of those games were against Oklahoma and Texas – teams hosting regionals – but Baylor also dropped midweek contests to Texas State and Sam Houston State during that stretch.

Junior first baseman Dustin Dickerson (.381, 10, 40) has moved into the leadoff spot in recent weeks, despite ranking third on the team with 10 home runs. Junior infielder Shaver Hansen (.333, 16, 57) leads the team in home runs and RBI, while Miller (.328, 12, 47) has also made significant contributions at the plate. Freshman infielder Joey Hainsfurther (.341, 1, 28) got off to a torrid start in his first season with the Bears, but has since cooled off a bit.

Despite their up-then-down season, the Bears have the talent to win on any given day. Right-handed pitcher Kendal Volz leads an impressive group of juniors who entered the program as the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation in 2007.

Volz (3-6, 4.54) worked as the USA Baseball National Team’s closer last summer, recording saves in all eight opportunities. He worked as the Friday-night starter during the regular season, but returned to the closer’s role and saved both of the Bears’ wins at the Big 12 Championship.

Redshirt sophomore right-handers Shawn Tolleson (1-2, 4.50) and Craig Fritsch (4-5, 5.29), and junior lefty Aaron Miller (3-3, 5.48) have each started six games on the mound for the Bears. Freshman right-hander Logan Verrett (7-1, 5.23) started the year in the bullpen and worked his way into the weekend rotation. He leads the team with three saves and seven wins, but hasn’t recorded a win since March 28, and he has only one save in that span.

With so many available arms out of the bullpen, the Bears have been able to shorten games, posting a 26-2 record when leading after six innings. However, Baylor is just 5-10 in true road games.

The Bears have fallen victim to “The Box” before. The last time Baylor played in Baton Rouge was in the 2003 Super Regional, when the Bears won the opener 4-1 and held a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning of game two before LSU rallied to win the rubber game 6-5 and advance to Omaha with a 20-5 win in the deciding game.

Baylor Stats

No. 4 seed – Southern (30-15, 17-6 SWAC)

Southern earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by knocking off Alcorn State in the SWAC tournament title game. The Jaguars knocked off Alabama A&M to open the tournament, then beat Grambling twice in three tries to advance to the title game.

Despite playing just 45 games, the Jaguars might have an advantage in the regional format after playing  10 doubleheaders during the 2009 season.

Fifth-year senior outfielder Brad McDavid (.358, 8, 50) paces a group of eight Jaguar starters who are hitting .300 or better. Junior outfielders Victor Franklin (.331, 10, 45) and James Armstrong (.343, 8, 39) and junior infielder Gregory Whitfield (.300, 12, 35) supply the majority of the power. Franklin has drawn 33 walks and struck out just 21 times. He boasts a .471 on-base percentage and leads the team with nine steals in 13 attempts.

On the mound, Southern is led by junior right-handed pitcher Jarrett Maloy (8-2, 3.14). He has made 10 starts and thrown three complete games. Opponents hit .264 against Maloy, and he has posted 47 strikeouts against 15 walks in 66.0 innings of work. He also picked up a pair of victories in the SWAC tournament when he earned a win with a complete game against Grambling, then came back on two-days rest to work 6.1 innings in his first relief appearance of the season in the Jaguars’ title-game win over Alcorn State.

Senior righty James Spear (5-2, 4.32) and junior southpaw Chase Richard (6-3, 4.41) fill out the Jaguars’ weekend rotation. Richard has gone the distance twice in 12 starts and has worked 69.1 innings. However, opponents are hitting .320 against him.

The Jaguars could also turn to freshman right hander Daniel Garcia (4-0, 2.25). Though he has made only five starts in seven appearances, he has notched a pair of saves and two complete games. In 36.0 innings of work, opponents are hitting just .228 against Garcia. He has allowed only one home run and issued just two walks against 24 strikeouts.

Should Southern take a lead into the late innings, it will likely hand the ball to sophomore right-handed pitcher Kyle Wahl (2-3, 3.52). He has worked out of the bullpen in 21 of 22 appearances and has recorded a staff-leading three saves in 38.1 innings.

Southern lost to LSU 11-5 in its fourth game of the season, but that experience could prove valuable to the Jaguars. There were 9,854 fans who came out to watch that game, and Southern played in front of more than 1,000 fans just twice the rest of the season.

Southern Stats

Prediction:

1.  Louisiana State
2.  Baylor
3.  Minnesota
4.  Southern