By: David Collier
For the fourth time since 2008, the LSU Tigers will host a regional, and if history is any indication, they will be the heavy favorites for a reason other than being one of the country’s top teams. The Tigers, who are the No. 4 national seed in the field of 64, have won 14 of the last 16 regionals they have hosted. LSU will have some tough competition, however, against the powerful bats of in-state foe No. 2 seed Louisiana-Lafayette. No. 3 seed Sam Houston State and No. 4 seed Jackson State round out the regional.
Let’s take a look at each team:
1. LSU Tigers (No. 4 National Seed) – (52-9, 23-7 Southeastern Conference)
The Tigers put themselves among the nation’s elite early this season and never waivered, running away with the SEC Western Division crown. They lost just one series all year, dropping two of three at home to South Carolina. Despite having to deal with an injury to second baseman JaCoby Jones the past two weeks, LSU comes into the regional on a roll, going 4-1 last week to claim the SEC Tournament championship.
The LSU offense is what set them apart from the rest of the SEC West, as the Tigers are hitting .308 as a team and averaging 6.5 runs per game. The middle of the LSU lineup is as good as it gets with seniors Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes in addition to SEC Freshman of the Year Alex Bregman. Katz is second on the team with a .377 average, while Bregman is just in front hitting at a .378 clip.
On the mound, LSU has one of the best staffs around with a team 2.48 ERA, and they are led by right-hander Aaron Nola, who is 10-0 on the year with a 1.94 ERA and was recently named SEC Pitcher of the Year by the league’s coaches. Right-hander Ryan Eades, who will start game one, and left-hander Cody Glenn have also been terrific in the starting role, posting 8-1 and 7-2 records, respectively. At the back end of the bullpen, LSU has one of the top closers in the nation in left-hander Chris Cotton, who has racked up 15 saves, a 4-1 record and a 1.38 ERA.
2. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns – (41-18, 19-11 Sun Belt Conference)
The Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette are making their 13th NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2010. They’re heading into Baton Rouge winners in seven of their last eight games, including a loss in the Sun Belt Tournament championship game. They finished fourth in the Sun Belt, but they were just a game and a half out of first place.
Offensively, Louisiana-Lafayette is among the nations best. They are third in the country in team batting average, hitting at a clip of .323, while they rank first in the nation in home runs with 72. They also average 7.7 runs per game. The Ragin’ Cajuns have eight players with at least 150 at-bats hitting over .300 and are led by Dex Kjerstad, who boasts a .398 average. Caleb Adams is the top run producer with 14 home runs and 51 RBI to go along with a .341 batting average.
Louisiana-Lafayette holds a 4.46 team ERA on the mound, and they have just one pitcher with a sub 3.00 ERA. Right-hander Austin Robichaux is the ace for the Ragin’ Cajuns, and he holds an 8-2 record with a 3.20 ERA in 15 starts. Left-hander Cody Boutte has also been good as a starter for Louisiana-Lafayette. In 15 starts, he is 8-3 with a 5.27 ERA. Both left-hander Ryan Wilson and at right-hander Ben Carter have drawn weekend starts as well. Wilson has 11 starts and has posted a 6-4 record and 3.35 ERA. Right-hander Matt Hicks has been a steady arm at then end of games, tallying 10 saves on the year.
Sam Houston State Bearkats – (37-20, 20-7 Southland Conference)
Sam Houston State is making their second consecutive appearance in a regional, and this year they’ll do so as regular season Southland Conference champions. They went just 1-2 in their conference tournament, but the Bearkats won 14 of their last 15 games to end the regular season.
At the plate, Sam Houston State hits .291 as a team and averages 5.7 runs per contest. Five of their top nine hitters are hitting over .300, including leading hitter Kevin Miller, who holds a .338 average and 37 RBI. Luke Plucheck gives Sam Houston State a power threat in the lineup, as he has a team-high eight home runs and 40 RBI. The Bearkats also generate runs on the base paths with Colt Atwood, who is an impressive 9-for-10 in the stolen base department on the year.
Sam Houston State is solid on the mound, holding a 3.71 team ERA. The Bearkats don’t have one guy pegged as an ace, and they have used four different guys on the weekend all season in left-hander Cody Dickson, right-hander Tyler Eppler, left-hander Andrew Godail and left-hander Caleb Smith. Dickson has the best record at 9-5, while Smith has the best ERA at 3.23. Right-hander Jason Simms is the Sam Houston State closer, and he has registered nine saves this season. Simms also boasts a 2.98 ERA.
Jackson State Tigers – (34-20, 19-5 SWAC)
After winning the regular season and SWAC Tournament titles, Jackson State heads into Baton Rouge winners of six in a row. They’ll have a tall task against No. 4 national seed LSU, but the two Tigers are familiar with each other. This marks Jackson State’s fourth regional appearance, first since 2000 and third trip to the Baton Rouge Regional. Jackson State is 0-6 all-time in regional play.
The Tigers will look to their offense, which averages 6.7 runs per game, to be hitting on all cylinders to pull off the upset. Jackson State hits at a clip of .285, but Charles Tilery’s .344 average and 33 RBI leads the team. They constantly put runners on the move, as they are 125-for-156 in stolen bases. Aneko Knowles and Tilery lead the team with 26 and 25 stolen bases respectively.
Jackson State holds a 4.66 ERA on the hill. They will likely turn to their ace Alexander Juday against LSU. Juday is 7-4 with a 3.14 ERA on the year. The Tigers will also look to Vincent Anthonia and Aneko Knowles in starting roles. The two have 5-4 and 4-2 records, respectively. At the end of games, Jackson State turns to Andre Rodriguez and Desmond Russell, who have combined for five saves this season.
Five Players To Watch
RHP Aaron Nola – LSU
Aaron Nola has been spectacular all season for Tiger head coach Paul Mainieri, racking up 105 strikeouts to just 14 walks and throwing four complete games. A possible matchup against the hot bats of Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday should be fun to watch.
SS Alex Bregman – LSU
A good shortstop that can hit is hard to find, but LSU has a good one in freshman Alex Bregman. Aside from being a steady glove, Bregman is leading to Tigers at the plate with a .378 average to go along with his 49 RBI and five home runs. He’s also 14-for-15 on stolen bases.
2B JaCoby Jones – LSU
After missing the past eight games with a hand and wrist injury, second baseman JaCoby Jones will be back in the lineup for LSU. Jones is hitting a solid .290 and his bat and presence in the field will be important for the Tigers national championship hopes.
OF Dex Kjerstad – Louisiana-Lafayette
The Ragin’ Cajuns are going to need Dex Kjerstad to keep his hot bat going if they want a chance of knocking of LSU and winning the regional. In the past eight games, Kjerstad is a phenomenal 20-for-35 (.571) with nine RBI and three home runs.
RHP Austin Robichaux – Louisiana-Lafayette
Austin Robichaux has been really good all season for Louisiana-Lafayette, and the Ragin’ Cajuns need him to put together back-to-back impressive outings. The big right-hander gave up just four hits and one earned run in a complete game performance his last time out.
Friday, May 31
Game 1: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Jackson State – 3 p.m. – ESPN3.com
Game 2: No. 3 Sam Houston State vs. No. 2 Louisiana Lafayette – 8 p.m. – ESPN3.com
Saturday, June 1
Game 3: Lose Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2 – 3 p.m. – ESPN3.com
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2 – 8 p.m. – ESPN3.com
Sunday, June 2
Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4 – 3 p.m. – ESPN3.com
Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 4 – 8 p.m. – ESPN3.com
Monday, June 3
Game 7 (If Necessary): Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6 – 8 p.m. – ESPN3.com
***All Times Eastern***
LSU advances to a Super Regional with a win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
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