By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
The names and numbers you should know about LSU’s competition in the Baton Rouge Regional. The Tigers begin play Friday afternoon against the No. 4 seed, Texas Southern. The other two squads, Rice and Southeastern, played in this regional last year, but the clubs aren’t exactly the same.
No. 4 Texas Southern
The Record: 20-32, 14-10 Southwestern Athletic Conference (automatic bid) | RIP: 266
The Skinny: There’s zero chance Texas Southern would’ve found its way into the Field of 64 were in not for an unexpected 4-0 run to the SWAC Tournament Championship. The Tigers lost their first nine games of the season and at one point found themselves at 10-23 after getting swept by Southern in Baton Rouge in a series that concluded April 9.
The Common Ground: LSU and Texas Southern share four common opponents. Texas Southern lost two games to Lamar, which LSU defeated, 10-4, on April 18. Texas Southern also lost twice to Texas Tech, which defeated LSU 5-4 in the finale of the Houston College Classic. Texas Southern split a six-game season series with Grambling and lost two out of three to Nicholls State. LSU defeated each of those teams in a midweek game.
The Dude: Second baseman Gaudencio Lucca is the Tigers’ leading hitter (.315) and also paces the club in doubles (14), triples (5), total bases (95) and on-base percentage (.458). His six homers are second to all-or-nothing slugger Olajide Oloruntimilehin, who has 10.
The Question: Texas Southern doesn’t have a starting pitcher with an ERA below 4.50. It has pitched to a team ERA of 6.56. Can that pitching staff so much as slow down red-hot LSU or the other two surging lineups in this regional?
No. 3 Rice
The Record: 31-29, 16-14 Conference USA (automatic bid) | RPI: 47
The Skinny: Like Texas Southern, Rice wouldn’t have made the Field of 64 were it not for a backs-against-the-wall run through its conference tournament, capped off by a walk-off win against South Miss to steal an automatic bid. Unlike the woeful No. 4 seed, Wayne Graham’s Owls represent a clear and present danger in the Baton Rouge Regional. Rice nearly bounced LSU on this stage last season, thwarted only by a late Greg Deichmann home run. They’ve been to Alex Box Stadium enough to not be intimidated, which isn’t often the case for a No. 3 seed.
The Common Ground: Rice and Southeastern met for a three-game series back in February, with the Lions taking two out of three. Like LSU, Rice lost a game to TCU early in the pre-conference slate. Rice dropped a midweek game to Texas A&M, which took two out of three at Alex Box Stadium. Rice split a home-and-home with Lamar, which LSU defeated on April 18.
The Dude: All-American closer Glenn Otto is back in form after missing part of the season with arm troubles. He saved eight games this season and has struck out 78 batters in 56.2 innings. His ERA is an inflated 3.97 because of early-season struggles, but he picked up two victories and a save en route to earned Conference USA Tournament MVP honors.
The Question: Rice has four hitters batting .300 or better with 35+ RBI, and Tristan Gray, who tore up the Baton Rouge Regional last season, is heating up. But do the Owls have enough pitching to last through the weekend after a week of playing for their postseason lives?
No. 2 Southeastern Louisiana
The Record: 36-20, 20-10 Southland Conference (at-large bid) | RPI: 29
The Skinny: Matt Riser has made Southeastern a perennial NCAA Tournament team since he’s been there, but this is without doubt the most complete team he’s had. The Lions ran away with the regular-season Southland Conference crown and put together a convincing enough résumé to be a strong No. 2 seed despite dropping its final two games at the conference tournament. The Lions have hit the same amount of home runs (55) as LSU this season and have two quality starting pitchers in Mac Sceroler (9-1, 3.24 ERA) and Corey Gaconi (6-5, 2.83 ERA).
The Common Ground: Southeastern played two out of the three teams competing in this bracket, dropping an 8-2 midweek decision to LSU on March 22 and taking two out of three from Rice back in February. As for mutual foes, the Lions took six of seven from Tulane and UNO, both of which swept home and homes from LSU. Southeastern took two of three from UL-Lafayette, Lamar, McNeese State, Northwestern State and Nicholls State. LSU defeated each of those in a midweek game besides McNeese State, which defeated the Tigers in Lake Charles. Both LSU and Southeastern defeated Hofstra in a midweek game. The Lions swept three games from South Alabama, which beat LSU in a midweek game.
The Dude(s): Jameson Fisher isn’t wearing green and yellow anymore, but the Lions now have three dangerous power hitters that comprise the heart of their order. Anybody hoping to get past Southeastern better find a way to contain Taylor Schwaner (.320, 13 HR, 68 RBI), Carson Crites (.301, 14 HR, 58 RBI) and Ryan Byers (.266, 11 HR, 42 RBI). Schwarner was the Southland Conference Player of the Year.
The Question: Southeastern committed 62 errors this season and fielded at a .971 clip. Can the Lions tighten up and not give away the kind of extra outs that LSU feasts off of?