Play Ball!: LSU primed and poised as it begins quest for its seventh College World Series title today

Cade Beloso of LSU
Photo by JONATHAN MAILHES
LSU baseball begins quest for seventh college baseball national championship vs Tennessee at 6 PM Central on June 17 2023

First, let’s looks at what a national championship for LSU would mean:

  • LSU was ranked No. 1 in the Preseason Top 25. The Tigers were arguably the most hyped team in college baseball history. LSU did a more than admirable job of living up to the hype and the Tigers now have a chance to become only the second team in the 21st century to win the national championship after being ranked No. 1 in the Preseason Top 25. Vanderbilt in 2019 currently holds that sole distinction.

Even though most experts right now are heaping tons of praise on an impressive Wake Forest – currently ranked No. 1 and the top seed in this year’s College World Series – a successful run to the championship this season for LSU means it would stake its claim to being the best team in college baseball history.

While the Tigers did fall a half-game short of winning the SEC title, they would end up with at least 53 wins if they do win the national championship, and with the talent on the roster, led by center fielder Dylan Crews and “America’s Ace” pitcher Paul Skenes – expected to be the first pair of collegiate teammates ever to be drafted No. 1 and No. 2 in the MLB draft – few, if any, would logically exclude LSU as being in the best-ever college baseball team conversation.

But, as LSU coach Jay Johnson has repeated time and again all season, for the Tigers it’s all about being true to themselves and taking every game one pitch at a time on both sides of the ball. Johnson concludes if LSU does that, the rest will work itself out.

BREAKING DOWN LSU’s BRACKET – BRACKET TWO

LSU (48-15) is joined by Stanford, Tennessee and Wake Forest in Bracket Two of the College World Series.

Stanford and Wake Forest will play the first game on Saturday at 1 p.m. Central Time and LSU will take on SEC foe Tennessee at 6 p.m. Central Time.

* 17 of the top 200 prospects in this year’s upcoming MLB Draft play on these four teams. Who steps up and who steps out? We’ll see.

A look at the teams in Bracket Two:

STANFORD

Stanford will be making its third straight appearance in Omaha after it defeated Texas on an improbable walk-off single in game three of the Stanford Super Regional.

The Cardinal will be making its 19th overall appearance, which is tied for the most appearances with LSU among the 2023 participants of the College World Series. Stanford won two national championships in 1987 and 1988 while finishing as a runner-up three times in 2000, 2001 and 2003.

The Cardinal is led by former Stanford baseball player David Esquer. Esquer, who took over the program in 2018, has led Stanford to three straight appearances in Omaha after a 13-year drought. Before taking over at Stanford, Esquer was the head coach at California, Stanford’s archrival, from 2000-2017. He led the Golden Bears to a College World Series appearance in 2011 and received the 2011 Pac-10 Coach of the Year Award.

Stanford is one of the best hitting teams in the country as they are second in hits behind fellow College World Series participant Virginia, ninth in batting average and 10th in home runs.

Its batting lineup is led by Pac 12 Player of the Year Alberto Rios. Rios is batting .387 from the plate with 23 doubles and 18 homers, which are both team-highs.

Infielder Tommy Troy is another excellent hitter for Stanford as he won the Pac 12 Batting Title as led the conference in batting average at the end of the regular season. Troy has a .397 batting average with 96 hits, 17 doubles, four triples, 17 home runs and 58 RBIs.

All-Pac 12 members Braden Montgomery and designated hitter, as well as Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Malcolm Moore, are some other names you need to watch out for. Second baseman Drew Bowser has recorded a home run in each of his last three games.

Although Stanford’s pitching rotation may be the weakest in Bracket Two, that doesn’t mean Stanford is without capable arms.

Quinn Mathews, who was named the Pac 12 Pitcher of the Year, is Stanford’s ace. Matthews leads the staff with a 3.60 ERA in 120 innings with 152 strikeouts. So Stanford could keep its bullpen fresh, he threw a 156-pitch complete game in game two of the supers and he was brilliant, recording 16 strikeouts and allowing three runs on eight hits. He made national headlines because of the absurd number of pitches he threw.

If reliever Ryan Bruno is in control he can be a huge difference-maker with his dominant stuff that helped him strike out 54 batters in 33 innings this year. Pitchers Brandt Pancer and Joey Dixon are arms that Stanford will need to step up if the Cardinal wants to make a run in Omaha.

TENNESSEE

Tennessee will be making its sixth appearance in the College World Series and its second in the last three seasons.

Tennessee went undefeated in the Clemson Regional before defeating Southern Miss in two out of three games in the Hattiesburg Super Regional to advance to the College World Series.

Tony Vitello is in his sixth season as the skipper of the Volunteers. Vitello has done a great job building this program into a national brand as he has led Tennessee to two College World Series appearances and three 40-plus win seasons.

Maui Ahuna, Jared Dickey, Griffin Merritt, Christian Moore and Zane Denton lead Tennessee’s offense.

Ahuna is batting .302 from the plate with 19 doubles, a triple, eight homers and 41 RBIs. Dickey, who was given All-SEC honors, has a team-high .325 batting average with six doubles, three triples, 12 homers and 51 RBIs. Merritt has blasted a team-high 18 home runs. Moore has recorded 12 doubles, 17 homers and has stolen 16 bases on 18 attempts.

Denton has had several clutch home runs this postseason, including a go-ahead 3-run homer in the ninth against Clemson and a 3-run homer in game three against Southern Miss. Denton has recorded nine doubles, three triples and 16 homers on the year.

Tennessee is one of the best pitching units in the country as they are second nationally in ERA (3.57), strikeouts (708), strikeouts per nine innings (12.2), and WHIP (1.15). The Volunteers are also fourth in hits allowed per nine innings (7.47).

Andrew Lindsey, who is expected to start against LSU on Saturday night, Chase Dollander, Drew Beam, Chase Burns, and Seth Halvorsen are high MLB’s radar and projected as potential first-round picks when their draft time comes.

Dollander and Burns each have over 100 strikeouts on the season, while Beam and Lindsey have the best ERAs of those four with Beam having a 3.78 and Lindsey having a 2.79 ERA. Halvorsen has 50 strikeouts in 50 innings pitched coming out of the bullpen.

WAKE FOREST

The No.1 overall seed, Wake Forest advanced to its first College World Series in 1955. The Demon Deacons hope they can break the No.1 Seed Curse as the No.1 national seed hasn’t won the College World Series since 1999.

Wake Forest scored 10-plus runs in all but one game this postseason, including scoring 20-plus runs twice. Wake Forest swept the Winston-Salem Regional by defeating George Mason twice and Maryland before sweeping No.15 national seed Alabama in the Super Regionals.

This is only the third time Wake Forest has advanced to the College World Series. The first time the Demon Deacons went to the College World Series was in 1949, when it was played in Wichita, Kansas and the Demon Deacons were runners-up to Texas. The other time was in 1955 when Wake Forest defeated Western Michigan to win its first and only national championship.

Pitching, which many consider to be the best in the country, is Wake Forest’s clear strength. The Demon Deacons lead the country in ERA (2.84), hits allowed per nine innings (6.61), strikeouts (738), strikeouts per nine innings (12.2) and WHIP (1.04). Wake Forest is also tied for first in shutouts (10) with LSU.

Four capable starters power its rotation. All-American and ACC Pitcher of the Year Rhett Lowder (15-0), Seth Keener (7-1), Sean Sullivan (5-3) and Josh Hartle (11-2). All four have under a 3.00 ERA with Lowder having a team-high 1.92 ERA.

Lowder, Hartle and Sullivan all have over 100 strikeouts. Both Lowder and Hartle have 131 and Sullivan has 86.

Wake Forest is also one of the best offensive teams in the country as they are second in walks (404), third in runs scored (583) and on-base percentage (.432), fourth in home runs (129), sixth in slugging percentage (0.556).

First baseman Nick Kurtz has a batting average of .370, which is a team-high. Kurtz, who received First Team All-ACC honors, has recorded 10 doubles, 24 home runs and 69 RBIs. He also has a team-high .538 on-base percentage.

Third baseman Brock Wilken leads the ACC in home runs with 30 and has recorded a team-high 80 RBIs. Wilken also leads the team in slugging percentage (.835)

Second baseman Justin Johnson has a .341 batting average with 15 doubles, three triples, 16 home runs and 76 RBIs.

TENNESSEE vs LSU (Home team) PRIMER

Tennessee Volunteers (43-20) vs. No. 5 National Seed LSU Tigers (48-15)

DATE/TIME

Saturday, June 17 @ 6 p.m. CT (ESPN)

STADIUM

Charles Schwab Field (24,000)

RANKINGS

LSU – No. 3 in NCBWA poll; No. 5 NCAA National Seed

UT – No. 6 in NCBWA poll

RADIO

·        LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates, including 98.1 FM in Baton Rouge

·        Live audio at www.LSUsports.net/live

TV/ONLINE

Saturday’s game will be televised on ESPN and streamed on ESPN +

LSU SERIES RECORD VS. TENNESSEE

• LSU leads the all-time series with Tennessee, 60-29 … LSU has won 16 of its last 24 games versus UT; however, Tennessee has won seven of the past nine meetings … LSU claimed a 2-1 SEC series win over Tennessee earlier this season (March 30-April 1) in Baton Rouge … prior to this season, UT had won six straight games over the Tigers, including a 2022 SEC Tournament win, a two-game sweep in the 2021 NCAA Knoxville Super Regional and a three-game sweep in the 2021 SEC regular-season series, also in Knoxville.

LSU IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

• LSU is in the NCAA Tournament for the 11th straight season and for the 35th time overall …. LSU has six national championships (1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2009), the second-most in NCAA history … the Tigers were an NCAA Tournament Top 8 National Seed for an NCAA-record six straight seasons (2012-17) …  LSU is a Top 8 National Seed this season (No. 5) for the first time since the 2017 Tigers were the No. 4 National Seed … LSU has the second-highest all-time NCAA Tournament winning percentage (.706, 168-70).

• LSU is participating in its 19th College World Series, and its first since 2017, when the Tigers finished as the national runners-up to Florida … LSU is 40-27 (.597) all-time in CWS games, including a 7-3 mark in CWS championship games/series.

• LSU last weekend won the NCAA Baton Rouge Super Regional with a two-game sweep over Kentucky, marking the ninth super regional title in program history.

QUOTING LSU COACH JAY JOHNSON

“Our players have done everything that we’ve asked them to do for the past two seasons. When we took the field last weekend (for the Super Regional), there was a really solid peace of mind that these guys were going to advance to the College World Series. To see the fans get behind them, they’re going to get behind LSU no matter what, but this is a really easy group to get behind, how hard they play, how much they care, how invested they are in the program.

“So we have an amazing collection of talent, but in the first meeting I said that doesn’t make us a team. Developing them as people, developing them as teammates, not just accepting their role, but embracing it, and communicating it might look different in Game 1 than in Game 10; it might look different in Game 20, Game 50, and then in Omaha.”

ABOUT THE TIGERS

·        LSU enters the College World Series with a 48-15 record, its best mark through 63 games since the 2015 Tigers were 53-10 entering the CWS … the Tigers last weekend won the NCAA Baton Rouge Super Regional with 14-0 and 8-3 victories over Kentucky … LSU two weeks ago won the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional with consecutive victories over Tulane and Oregon State (twice) … the Tigers were 1-2 in the SEC Tournament three weeks ago in Hoover, Ala. … LSU was the No. 3 SEC Tournament seed, its highest since the 2017 Tigers were the No. 1 seed in the event.

·        The Tigers completed the 2023 regular season 42-13 overall and 19-10 in conference play … LSU recorded its most SEC regular-season wins since the 2017 club won 21 SEC games, and the Tigers posted their most overall regular-season wins since the 2015 squad ended the regular season with 46 victories.

·        The Tigers, the SEC’s No. 4 seed last season, have finished in the Top 4 in the overall SEC standings in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2014 and 2015 … LSU’s second-place finish in the SEC Western Division this season is its best since the Tigers won the Western Division in 2017.

·        LSU has reached the 40-win mark in back-to-back years for the first time since the 2016 and 2017 seasons … LSU finished 40-22 in last season and participated in the NCAA Hattiesburg Regional … the Tigers this season are seeking their 14th 50-win season and their first since the 2017 club finished 52-20.

·        LSU enters the College World Series at or near the top of several NCAA statistical categories … the Tigers are No. 1 in the nation in shutouts pitched (10); No. 1 in runs scored (588); No. 2 in on-base percentage (.438); No. 2 in slugging percentage (.569); No. 2 in home runs (133); No. 3 in strikeouts pitched per nine innings (11.6); No. 4 in hit-by-pitch (131); No. 5 in scoring average (9.3 runs per game); No. 6 in hits allowed per nine innings (7.70); and No. 6 in walks received (367).

·        The LSU pitching staff has established the school single-season record for strikeouts with 695; the previous school mark was 682 set in 1997 … LSU has 133 home runs this season, the third-highest total in school history … LSU hit an NCAA-record 188 homers in 1997 and 157 homers in 1998.

·        LSU’s six homers in Game 1 of the Super Regional vs. Kentucky was its most in an NCAA Tournament game since the Tigers hit seven HRs in Game 3 of the 2008 NCAA Super Regional vs. UC Irvine in Alex Box Stadium.

·        LSU center fielder Dylan Crews is No. 2 in the nation in on-base percentage (.576); No. 2 in runs scored (89); No. 3 in batting average

·        (.434) and No. 3 in walks (65) … third baseman Tommy White is No. 2 in the nation in RBI (97), and he is No. 3 in the nation in RBI per game (1.67)

·        LSU right-hander Paul Skenes is No. 1 in the nation in strikeouts (188), strikeouts per nine innings (15.81) and WHIP (0.78), and he is No. 2 in the nation in ERA (1.77)  … he is No.3 in the nation in strikeout-to-walk ratio (10.44), and No. 6 in hits allowed per nine innings (5.47) … LSU second baseman Gavin Dugas is No. 3 in the nation in hit-by-pitch (30).

·        LSU is No. 1 in the Southeastern Conference in 10 offensive categories – batting average (.314), slugging percentage (.569), on-base percentage (.438), runs (588), hits (668), RBI (539), total bases (1,210), home runs (133), sacrifice flies (38) and plate appearances (2,679) … LSU is No. 2 in the SEC in HBP (131).

ABOUT THE VOLUNTEERS

·        Tennessee is hitting .284 as a team with 125 home runs and 59 stolen bases in 71 attempts … the Vols are No. 8 in the SEC in batting average and No. 3 in the league in home runs.

·        The Volunteers’ pitching staff has a 3.57 cumulative ERA, which ranks No. 1 in the SEC; UT has recorded 708 strikeouts in 542.0 innings.

·        UT is led at the plate by catcher/outfielder Jared Dickey, who is hitting .325 with six doubles, three triples, 12 homers and 51 RBI this season … outfielder Griffin Merritt is batting .315 with 11 doubles, 18 homers and 48 RBI; infielder Christian Moore is batting .313 with 12 doubles, 17 homers and 48 RBI.

·        Two other Volunteers have recorded a double-digits home run total – first baseman Blake Burke and infielder Zane Denton each have 16 homers.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


four × six =