Alex Box Stadium will play host to the NCAA Tournament for the 20th time starting Friday, June 1. This year’s participants will be (1) LSU, (2) Oregon State, (3) Belmont, and (4) ULM. If LSU wins the regional, they will remain in Baton Rouge as they await the winner of the Coral Gables regional.
Here’s a look at the four teams vying for a spot in the Super Regional this weekend in Baton Rouge.
LSU (43-16, 19-11, SEC, At-large)
LSU enters the field of 64 as the seventh national seed. Earning this honor means the Tigers will host the Super Regional at Alex Box if they win their Regional. The Tigers won the SEC regular season, but had a bumpy end to the season, dropping a series to Vanderbilt before taking two of three from South Carolina, and losing twice to Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament. In the two games against MSU in Hoover, the Tiger bullpen turned in untypically poor performances, allowing seven runs on 13 hits. There was a bright spot for the Tiger pitching staff, though, as all three weekend starters had strong performances. Ryan Eades, especially, needed to work himself back into form heading into this weekend’s regional, and threw six good innings against the Bulldogs in Hoover. After struggling over much of the last month and a half of the season, Eades allowed no runs on just four hits against MSU. He did walk four and hit one batter, but his performance in the SEC Tournament was his strongest in quite some time. The Tigers will need to figure out what’s going on with the bullpen as they get ready for regional.
Players to watch
Raph Rhymes is by far the offensive star of this LSU team. He’s leading the nation in batting average at .459 heading in to the weekend.
Kevin Gausman is the ace of this staff. He turned in a typically strong performance last week against Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament, pitching LSU to its only win in Hoover. Gausman will pitch in Saturdays game.
Oregon State (38-18, 18-12, Pac-12, At-large)
Oregon State comes to Baton Rouge hot off a sweep of in-state rival Oregon. The sweep in the final series of the season for the Beavers moved them into a tie for fourth place in the Pac-12 race and was their fourth straight series win. OSU boasts series victories over traditional power Stanford and Pac-12 co-champion UCLA. As a team the Beavers are hitting a respectable .283. OSU scores runs, but they also are susceptible to allowing too many. With a staff ERA of 3.51, the Beavers often find themselves needing to outscore opponents – they have won only once when scoring two runs or less and are averaging over six runs per game. They need that kind of offensive firepower, though, as they give up almost 4.5 runs to their opponents. The Beavers could be dangerous if they can get the bats going this weekend.
Player to watch
Michael Conforto is by far the Beavers’ most dangerous hitter. Boasting a .343 average in 204 at-bats, he has 12 doubles, a team-leading 13 homeruns, 22 walks, and 71 RBIs. Limiting the damage Conforto does may be the only way to minimize his impact on a game.
Belmont (39-22, 17-10, Atlantic Sun Champions)
Belmont earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament by virtue of winning its conference tournament last week. The Bruins boast an offense that has scored seven or more runs 17 times this season, with five players posting double digit totals in doubles. They are hitting .266 as a team. The Bruins are able to string these hits together to score multiple runs, which is important as they are likely to give up runs in bunches, too. The Bruins will be aggressive on the base path with six players in double digits in stolen base attempts. Belmont ranks 32 in the nation with 86 stolen bases. This penchant to move around on the bases could cause some headaches for opposing pitchers. They’ll need as many runs as they can get, though, as they have a staff ERA of 3.11 with none of their starters putting up an average below 2.45. The Bruins will live and die on the offensive side of the ball. If they can score runs, they’ll put themselves in a position to take some games.
Players to watch
Zac Mitchell leads the team with a .361 batting average, 16 doubles, and 20 stolen bases. He also has a .493 on-base percentage. Keeping Mitchell off base will be key to putting Belmont away.
Judah Akers is another threat at the plate. He’s coming off a 5-5 performance in the championship game of the Atlantic Sun tournament, and has put up a .339 average for the season. He leads the team in doubles (17) and hits (79). He hits two spots behind Mitchell. If Mitchell gets on, look for Akers to try to add to his RBI total.
ULM (31-28, 15-15, Sun Belt Champions)
ULM is no stranger to Alex Box Stadium. The Warhawks have played LSU 46 times with the Tigers holding a 38-8 advantage, though the two teams haven’t met in two years. ULM has posted a .272 batting average on the year, but they are allowing opponents to bat the same. With a staff ERA of 4.28, the Warhawks will hope to find themselves in high scoring games as their only real hope of winning games is to outscore the opposition. Randy Zeigler and Cale Wine are their only true starters as the team has spread its remaining starts among the rest of its pitching staff, but both Zeigler and Wine have ERAs above 3.00. ULM does not have a pitcher with an ERA below 2.00. If the Tigers are built around their pitching staff, the Warhawks’ biggest liability may be their staff. It will be tough for ULM to make any kind of a run if they can’t get production from the offense.
Players to watch
Les Aulds is among the nation’s leaders in stolen bases. He has taken 24 bases on 32 attempts over the course of the year. With a .358 on-base percentage, Aulds could play a major role in the Warhawks’ games this weekend.
Joey Rapp leads the team in hits (76), doubles (18), homeruns (9), and RBIs (51), and is second in runs (44). He is the one who will lead the way for the Warhawks at the plate. If he has a good weekend, ULM could be a tough game for the other three teams.
Here’s the schedule for this weekend’s games:
Game 1: Belmont vs. Oregon State (June 1, 2:00 p.m.)
Game 2: ULM vs. LSU (June 1, 7:00 p.m.)
Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2 (June 2, 2:00 p.m.)
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2 (June 2, 7:00 p.m.)
Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4 (June 3, 1:30 p.m.)
Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5 (June 3, 6:30 p.m.)
Game 7 (if necessary): Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6 (June 4, 6:30 p.m.)
Topics: Alex Box, Belmont Bruins, CWS, Joey Rapp, Judah Akers, Kevin Gausman, Les Aulds, LSU Baseball, LSU Tigers, Michael Conforto, NCAA Baseball, NCAA Regional, NCAA Tournament, Oregon State Beavers, Raph Rhymes, ULM Warhawks, Zac Mitchell