The nation's hottest team, LSU, hosts last year's cinderella, UC-Irvine, this weekend in Baton Rouge. Since a tie on April 20th, the LSU Tigers have reeled off 23 straight wins, secured a #7 national seed, and swept through their regional to get to this point. The UCI Anteaters made the trip to Omaha last season. They took a trip to Nebraska last weekend and picked up a Lincoln Regional title. They are now two wins away from returning to Rosenblatt and Nebraska again. It has been a while since Tiger fans have made the trip to Omaha and this team has a great chance to put another note on the LSU billboard.
UC-IRVINE AT LSU
LSU (46-16) swept through Texas Southern (12-1) and Southern Miss twice (13-4, 11-4) last week in Baton Rouge. UC-Irvine swept through Lincoln by defeating Oral Roberts (9-7), Nebraska (3-2), and Oral Roberts (8-0) again in the championship game. The Anteaters are venturing into a hostile environment but have been through this path last year. They swept through the regional round and then went on the road in the Super Regionals only to sweep the two games to get to Omaha. LSU has not been to a Super Regional since 2004 and that team advanced to Omaha by sweeping two games in Baton Rouge.
The Fighting Tigers look to close out a historic run at Alex Box Stadium by putting up another trip to Omaha. The Tigers will move into their new Alex Box next season but still have a few days of work to complete the book at the Old Box.
BREAKING IT DOWN
Both teams have pitched fairly well this season. LSU has allowed 295 runs (244 earned) for a team ERA of 3.83. Having struck out 509 batters in 573 1/3 innings, LSU has given up only 51 homeruns on the season. The Tigers are led by Ryan Verdugo's 9-2 record and 3.81 ERA. UCI has one upped the Tigers by posting a team ERA of 2.88 (215 runs/164 earned) in 512 2/3 innings of work. They have 477 strikeouts in those innings; however, two pitchers have 216 of them together. They have only allowed 28 homeruns on the season. Scott Gorgen leads the Anteater staff with an 11-3 record and 2.31 ERA.
After a slow start to the season, the LSU hitters have caught fire during the winning streak. They now have the team average up over .300 at .305 while blasting 88 homeruns and scoring 490 runs. Blake Dean (.351) and Matt Clark (.340) have been the catalysts with 19 and 25 homeruns, respectively. UC-Irvine has about the same team batting average at .306 but have only 35 homeruns this year. Jeff Cusick leads in batting average (.347) while Ollie Linton (.323) has 39 stolen bases.
Out of the Pen
LSU has 16 saves, while UCI has 17 on the campaign. Jared Bradford has 5 saves and a 10-4 record out of the pen, although he has seven starts in 24 appearances. Eric Pettis has all 17 saves for the Anteaters. He is lights out by allowing only eight earned runs (10 total) in 43 2/3 innings for a 1.65 ERA.
New Anteater coach Mike Gillespie has taken Southern Cal to Omaha and looks to return the Anteaters to Rosenblatt for a second time. He picked up win #800 recently but nothing would be more sweet than a Super Regional title. Paul Maineri returned to his alma mater and has now taken the team back to where fans want the squad to be. An SEC Championship coupled with a regional title are nice but a trip to Nebraska in June would be exactly what the doctor ordered in Baton Rouge.
Unfortunately for UCI, the Box will be rocking this weekend and they might not have been exposed to such an experience before. Baton Rouge can be cruel to opponents; however, the Anteaters will have to put that and a hot team out of their mind to just play ball. Two long trips in as many weeks might catch up to UC-Irvine, which might be a factor as well.
LSU has led the nation in attendance for 13 straight seasons and will certainly have the home field advantage. UC-Irvine has been through this last year, while LSU has not been this far in four years. They might have the edge in experience but what they do have will go out the door after the first pitch. The Box has been intimidating for opponents that have not been there before and LSU has taken advantage of those situations before.
The best thing for UC-Irvine to do is not look at the billboard in right field; however, that is easier said than done. Many teams have tried but have not been successful.