The Tigers enter the NCAA tournament playing their best baseball of the season to date, winners of eight straight and coming off an SEC tournament championship. Originally thought to be a fringe host entering tournament play in Hoover, LSU won all four games, outscoring opponents 31-4 en route to an SEC tournament championship and were rewarded with the #8 national seed.
Junior righty Aaron Nola took home SEC Pitcher of the Year honors for the second straight season, and has made a very strong argument for being the best pitcher in all of college baseball. I certainly believe that to be the case, anyway. Having a legitimate superstar on the mound capable of shutting down even the best of lineups gives LSU a great chance of not only advancing from the Baton Rouge regional but also getting to Omaha. The key to how far they will go rests not on Nola, but the supporting cast around him. If the Tigers can get strong starts from Jared Poche as the #2 and consistent outings from the bullpen, the sky is the limit for LSU. Anything short of reaching Omaha again would be a serious disappointment for this group.
Coming off the disappointment of not being a regional host, the Houston Cougars will have a chip on their shoulder as they go into Baton Rouge. Like LSU, Houston is also coming off a conference tournament championship as they defeated regular season champion Louisville to win the American Athletic Conference in its inaugural season. Their RPI of 10 was the highest of any team that didn’t host, and what likely did them in was the fact they finished 4 ½ games behind Louisville and tied for third in a conference that saw just two teams make the postseason.
Led by a rotation that saw four different players get 10+ starts, all four also posted an ERA under 3.00 which gives the Cougars the consistency on the mound needed to go into Alex Box and win. A lights-out bullpen features Chase Wellbrock who recorded 12 saves this season to go along with his 1.15 ERA, good for lowest on the team. Tyler Ford and Jared Robinson also made 20+ appearances with ERA’s under 2.00 so if Houston has a lead late, good luck.
The Bulldogs enter the NCAA tournament winners of their second consecutive Northeast Conference tournament championship, receiving the automatic bid. Sporting a 19-5 conference record, Bryant won the regular season title by a comfortable five games after being pre-season favorites to get to the postseason again. They take a 42-14 overall record into Baton Rouge and look to build off last year’s tournament experience, which saw them knock off Arkansas in the opening game.
Outfielder Carl Anderson is the lifeblood of a Bulldog offense that brings a stout .395 OBP into regional play. Anderson leads the team in a variety of offensive categories with 7 home runs, 40 RBI and a whopping 29 stolen bases. Senior Tom Gavitt adds 6 homers and 29 RBI of his own, and between the tandem of Anderson and Gavitt there are 38 extra base hits on the season. If the Bulldogs have a few wins in them this weekend production out of the offensive leaders is a must. Craig Schlitter sports a team-best 1.95 ERA in 14 starts, averaging over seven strikeouts per nine innings to go along with Vaughn Hayward (2.41 ERA) and Kevin Mcavoy (2.81 ERA).
Southeastern Louisiana 37-23
Following a perfect 4-0 record en route to the Southland tournament championship, Southeastern Louisiana is back in the NCAA tournament for the third time and the first time since 1994. The Lions defeated last year’s tournament winner Central Arkansas 9-4 to claim the program’s first league title and are in Baton Rouge as the four seed after a regular season campaign that saw them place fifth in the conference.
Ace Andro Cutura brings the Lions into the Baton Rouge regional as a not so typical four seed, as his 10-2 record and 1.72 ERA speaks for itself. Cutura has the talent to give the Lions a chance to win against heavy favorite LSU, which as a four seed is really all you can ask. In turn this will cause LSU to start ace Aaron Nola or #2 starter Jared Poche, as Cutura certainly won’t go unnoticed by the national seed Tigers. Offensively Jameson Fisher and Andrew Godbold set the tone, with Fisher to the tune of an absurd .394 batting average and .487 OBP. Godbold is the team leader by a significant margin in home runs with 8, RBI with 57 and slugging at .511.