All eyes will quickly focus in on the hosts of the Corvallis Regional and the potential for LSU and Oregon State to meet in a rematch of last summer’s College World Series semifinals, but the Beavers and Tigers are only half of what might be the toughest regional from top to bottom.
Still, we begin our customary breakdown of LSU’s NCAA Tournament competition with a look at the juggernaut that will ultimately stand between the Tigers and advancing to the next round.
No. 1 Oregon State
The Record: 44-10-1 (No. 3 national seed) | RPI: 7
The Skinny: Injuries and an improved Pac 12 kept Oregon State from racking up the eye-popping record it sported last season, but the Beavers are a machine that have won 100 games versus 16 losses since the start of last season. Orgeron State is loaded, well-balanced and about as tough a landing spot as LSU could have gotten.
The Common Ground: There is none, but LSU has the benefit — if you can call it that — of having seen almost all of Orgeron State’s players last summer. Eight players return from the regular lineup the Beavers deployed in Omaha last season, so perhaps that gives LSU a jump in scouting.
The Dude: Right fielder Trevor Larnach has elevated his game to an entirely new level this season as a run producer, hitting .324 with 17 home runs and 64 RBI. Second baseman Nick Madrigal is hitting .395 this season after being sidelined for months with an injury.
The Question: Ace Luke Heimlich (14-1, 2.49 ERA) sat out the NCAA Tournament last season due to the well-documented scandal that came with revelations that he’s a registered sex offender. He’s back, so will LSU be able to topple the Beavers again if it has to face the All-American lefty?
No. 3 San Diego State
The Record: 39-19 (Mountain West Champions) | RPI: 50
The Skinny: Having won the Mountain West five times in the past six years, the Aztecs are a far more formidable foe than LSU is used to facing in a regional opener when it’s the host facing a No. 4 seed. San Diego State hit .305 as a team this season and averaged 6.3 runs per game, meaning LSU can’t save its big guns on the mound with an eye toward Oregon State.
The Common Ground: LSU and San Diego State share just one common opponent, Arkansas. The Hogs defeated the Aztecs 5-2 back on Feb. 24 while LSU defeated Arkansas three times in four meetings, including a 2-1 win on Saturday during the SEC Tournament.
The Dude: San Diego State has a good lineup top to bottom, but first baseman Jordan Verdon is the big bopper in the middle. He hit .341 and led the team in home runs (12), doubles (26) and RBI (65). Closer Casey Schmitt has nine saves this season while pitching to a minuscule 0.28 ERA.
The Question: Will the Aztecs throw Mountain West Co-Pitcher of the Year Garrett Hill (7-2, 3.58 ERA) at LSU in the regional opener? If so, Paul Mainieri will have to give serious consideration to bringing Zack Hess back on one day’s short rest, especially if Ma’Khail Hilliard isn’t ready to go.
No. 4 Northwestern State
The Record: 37-22 (Southland Conference Champions) | RPI: 105
The Skinny: The Demons captured the Southland Conference Tournament for the first time in program history to earn their fifth NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2005. This means that both of the Louisiana schools in the field of 64 will be headed to Oregon. Mainieri joked that he’d reach out to the Demons about splitting a charter plane.
The Common Ground: Well this one is easy. LSU and Northwestern State played at Alex Box Stadium on May 15 with LSU prevailing 9-5 in a game that got hairy late before Austin Bain came in and shut the door in his final home appearance.
The Dude: Northwestern State is a pitching-centric club as denoted by their team ERA of 3.33, but catcher/first baseman David Fry is the man that makes them go offensively. He hit .336 this season with 12 home runs, 26 doubles and 55 RBI.
The Question: Can the Demons put up a fight against Oregon State in the opener and be a pesky four seed after making such a long trek northwest? If so, the Corvallis Regional can definitely make a case for being among the toughest of the 16.