By: David Collier
After sweeping through the Baton Rouge and Blacksburg regionals last week, respectively, LSU and Oklahoma will get together in Baton Rouge this weekend in one of eight Super Regionals. The Tigers and Sooners will go head-to-head in a three-game set with the winner of the series earning a bid to the College World Series. The Super Regional kicks off Friday at 7 p.m. ET with Saturday and Sunday’s contests also set for a 7 p.m. ET first pitch.
How They Got Here
No. 4 national seed LSU hosted their regional last weekend, and swept through it with three consecutive wins. However, it wasn’t as easy as it seemed, as the Tigers needed their best offensive performance to defeat Jackson State, 11-7, in the opener and Sam Houston State, 8-5. LSU’s pitching dominated the regional championship with a 5-1 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
Right fielder Sean McMullen paced the LSU offense last weekend, going 5-for-7 with two RBI. In the fourth inning of Friday’s regional opener, shortstop Alex Bregman and left fielder Raph Rhymes collided going for a fly ball that was ultimately caught by Bregman. Both left the game, but both came back strong the rest of the weekend. Bregman, the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year, was 6-for-10 with three RBI and four runs scored, while Rhymes was 5-for-10 with two RBI and a run scored in the Saturday and Sunday games combined.
Oklahoma had a tougher road to a Super Regional, playing on the road in the Blacksburg, Va. Regional as the No. 2 seed. However, the Sooners got a break with the hosting Hookies losing their opening game, and Oklahoma didn’t have to face Virginia Tech until Sunday’s championship game that they won 10-4. The toughest game of the weekend came on Saturday when the Sooners needed 12 innings to get a 5-3 win over No. 4 seed Connecticut.
Centerfielder Max White went 8-for-16 with four RBI and three runs scored to lead the Oklahoma offense. Shortstop Jack Mayfield was also impressive, going 6-for-15 with two RBI and five runs scored. Right-handed pitcher Jonathan Gray was dominant in the regional opener allowing just three runs (two earned) on nine hits with a walk and 11 strikeouts in a complete game performance. Out of the bullpen, right-hander Kyle Hayes was lights out, giving up just three hits in 4.1 innings of work in two appearances.
LSU Tigers (55-9, 23-7 SEC)
The Tigers separated themselves as one of the nations elite early on in the season and never looked back. They have been about as consistent as possible throughout the year, running away with the SEC Western Division crown. LSU continued their consistent play in the SEC Tournament, winning the title over SEC regular season champion Vanderbilt. They look to get back to the College World Series after being upset by last year’s Cinderella in Stony Brook in the Super Regional.
Offensively, the Tigers are among the best in the country, hitting .307 as a team and averaging 6.6 runs per game. Bregman is the team leader at the plate with a .385 average, 52 RBI and six home runs. First baseman Mason Katz has also been a monster at the dish, boasting a .378 average to go along with his team-leading 68 RBI and 15 home runs.
LSU is ranked 4th in the nation with a team ERA of 2.47. Right-hander Aaron Nola leads the Tigers on the mound with an 11-0 record and 1.82 ERA. He has 111 strikeouts to just 17 walks on the year. LSU head coach Paul Mainieri announced earlier this week Nola will get the start in Friday’s Super Regional opener. Last weekend against Sam Houston State, he pitched seven innings giving up five runs (none earned) in six hits with three walks and six strikeouts.
The rest of the rotation is still up in the air, but right-hander Ryan Eades, left-hander Cody Glenn and left-hander Brent Bonvillain are the top three candidates to fill the starting role on Saturday and Sunday. Eades was the Tiger’s second starter throughout the year, compiling an 8-1 record and 2.81 ERA. Glenn was not on the LSU roster last weekend due to a suspension, but he has been reinstated and could get a starting nod at some point this weekend. Glenn is 7-2 on the year and holds a 2.41 ERA. Bonvillain has just six starts on the year and is 3-0 with a 2.76 ERA. However, he pitched well in Sunday’s regional championship game, giving up one run (none earned) on three hits in 5.1 innings. With the arms the Tigers have, Mainieri has several options that will make LSU tough to beat.
Oklahoma Sooners (43-19, 13-11 Big 12)
The Sooners have been up and down in their play this season. They dropped their last three series of the regular season before sweeping through the Big 12 Tournament to claim that title and last week’s regional. Oklahoma heads into Baton Rouge riding an eight-game winning streak. This marks the Sooners second straight year in a Super Regional and also their third appearance in the past four years.
Oklahoma is an average team at the plate, hitting .286 as a team and averaging 5.6 runs per contest. However, first baseman Matt Oberste is as tough of an out as there is with a .376 average to go with his 60 RBI and 11 home runs. Centerfielder Max White is the only other Sooner hitting over .300, as he comes into the weekend hitting at a clip of .313 with 32 RBI and three home runs.
On the mound, Oklahoma makes up for their offensive woes with a 2.94 team ERA. Their ace on the hill is right-hander Jonathan Gray, who will likely start game one of the Super Regional Friday. ESPN first reported this week that the 6-foot-4, 239-pound junior tested positive for the medication Adderall during his MLB predraft drug test. However, Gray will still be eligible to play this weekend. Gray is an impressive 10-2 on the year with a 1.59 ERA, which ranks 14th in the country. What separates Gray from other guys is his walk to strikeout ratio. He has tallied 138 strikeouts on the year to just 22 walks in 119 innings of work.
The likely Oklahoma starters for Saturday and Sunday’s contests are left-handers Dillon Overton and Jake Fisher who both started for the Sooners in last weekend’s regional. Overton is 9-2 with a 2.91 ERA on the year. Last week, he gave up two runs on six hits in 5.2 innings against Connecticut. Fisher has started just six games on the year, but he has 20 appearances and has compiled a 3-2 record and 2.53 ERA. He went 5.1 innings in last weekend’s regional championship game, giving up three hits on seven hits. Left-hander Jacob Evans has been very solid for Oklahoma in the closer’s role, racking up nine saves on the year with a 1.73 ERA.
What To Watch For
Nola vs. Gray
Friday’s Super Regional opener will provide one of the best pitching matches this season in college baseball with LSU’s Nola battling against Oklahoma’s Gray. It will be interesting to see if both guys are more relaxed after hearing their name called in the MLB Draft. Both offenses better make the most of the opportunities because there most likely won’t be many. Jumping out to an early may be the best way to get on the board before Nola or Gray gets into a rhythm.
Not only is there a dynamic matchup to watch Friday, but this Super Regional also brings two of the top closers in college baseball. LSU’s left-hander Chris Cotton has been dominant his entire career, and this season he has 16 saves, a 4-1 record and a 1.29 ERA. Oklahoma’s left-handed closer Jacob Evans has been equally as good with nine saves and a 1.73 ERA. If either team can get into the eighth inning with a lead, we could see either head coach elect to bring their closer out for a six-out save.
This will likely be the key to whose seasons comes to an end and who moves on to the College World Series. LSU has a big advantage offensively on paper. However, Oklahoma has been playing really good baseball as of late, and they will have to rely on timely hitting to have a chance of winning this series.
Friday’s game will live up to the hype, but LSU will break through with the win and get an easier win Saturday to win the series 2-0 and advance to the College World Series.