Baton Rouge Regional Preview

No. 4 national seed LSU is set to host the Baton Rouge Regional this weekend beginning at 2:00 p.m. on Friday. LSU will take on SWAC Champion Jackson State. UL-Lafayette and Southland Champion Sam Houston State will play Friday night at 7:00 p.m. TSD's Austin Cooper previews the weekend with each team's strengths and weaknesses.

LSU (52-9, 23-7) locked up the No. 4 national seed in the NCAA Tournament last week on their way to winning the SEC Tournament by defeating Vanderbilt in extra-innings. The Tigers - who open up play at 2:00 p.m. on Friday against Jackson State - are preparing for regional play with a several uncertainties still surrounding the team.

LSU will enter regional play with a team batting average of .308 and a team ERA of 2.48. The Tigers are led at the plate by freshman Alex Bregman (.378, 5 HR, 49 RBI), but have another player not far behind him in senior Mason Katz (.377).

Throughout the season, pitching has been a strength of this 2013 LSU squad. The Tigers currently rank third in college baseball with a team ERA of 2.48. On the mound, sophomore Aaron Nola, who has compiled a record of 10-0 and an ERA of 1.94, leads LSU. Nola ranks among the best pitchers in the country for 2013.

LSU will send junior Ryan Eades (8-1, 2.69 ERA) to the mound on Friday, Nola will go on Saturday, and the plan is to have sophomore Cody Glenn (7-2, 2.41 ERA) throw on Sunday.

The LSU offense should get a boost this weekend since junior JaCoby Jones will be back to full strength for the first time in several weeks after suffering a left hand injury. Until his injury, Jones had raised his batting average from under .200 to nearly .300 and was an enormous spark plug for the LSU offense. Having him back is certainly good news for the Bayou Bengals.

The only question mark surround the LSU roster is with freshman Mark Laird. The LSU right fielder sprained his left ankle during last week's SEC Tournament and has yet to be cleared to play this weekend. If Laird can't go, it is likely that LSU coach Paul Mainieri will add another pitcher to the active postseason roster, most likely freshman Hunter Newman.

On paper, the Tigers appear as though they should run away with the regional against teams like Jackson State, UL-Lafayette and Sam Houston State. However, the Tigers are known to struggle at times with timely hitting, something that plagued them at different parts of the season.

If LSU is successful in winning their regional, they will get the winner of the Blacksburg, Va. regional. The opponent for the winner of the Baton Rouge regional will be one of Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Coastal Carolina or Connecticut.

With fans everywhere being familiar with LSU and what they have done this season, TSD takes a look at the potential regional opponents of the Tigers and what led them to the Baton Rouge Regional.

Jackson State: 34-20, 19-5 (SWAC Champions)

Team Batting Average: .285
Team ERA: 4.66
Top Hitter: Charles Tillery (.344, 33 RBI)
Top Starting Pitcher: RHP Alexander Juday (7-4, 3.14 ERA)

Jackson State enters the Baton Rouge Regional after having a very good season in the SWAC. They were able to win the conference in the regular season as well as in tournament play to secure their NCAA bid. The Tigers hit for a decent average as a team this season (.285) and were led at the plate by junior Charles Tillery (.344). The one offensive area that the Tigers have struggled in is producing runs on a consistent basis. No one on the roster has 40 or more RBI. They also lack power as they have combined for a measly 12 homeruns so far in 2013. While their offensive numbers may not be the greatest, the Tigers still have the ability to cause some problems on the base paths. Jackson State ranks ninth in the NCAA with 125 stolen bases.

In terms of pitching, the Tigers currently sport a team ERA of 4.66. Starting pitching has been an issue throughout the season with sophomore Alexander Juday (3.14 ERA) running away with the lead over his fellow staff members. The plan is to start Juday against LSU on Friday. Other than that, not much is known with regards to who else will go for the Tigers.

If the Tigers hope to be successful this weekend, they will have to play flawless baseball and have near perfect execution, especially given the fact that their first game will be against LSU. Jackson State has achieved a lot in 2013 and could be a sleeper as the NCAA Tournament approaches, but they will need some things to go in their favor if they hope to advance.

UL-Lafayette: 41-18, 19-11 (Finished 4th in Sun Belt Conference standings)

Team Batting Average: .323
Team ERA: .4.46
Top Hitter: Dex Kjerstad (.398, 12 HR, 43 RBI)
Top Starting Pitcher: RHP Austin Robichaux (8-2, 3.20 ERA)

One look at the statistics and it is easy to see why UL-Lafayette has been so successful in 2013. The Ragin' Cajuns are a force to be reckoned with on offense. They rank among the top schools in the nation in two different statistical categories. In terms of team average, the Cajuns rank third in the country with an average of .323. They are also statistically the most powerful team in the country with a total of 72 homeruns being hit so far in 2013. The Cajuns are led at the plate by junior Dex Kjerstad who has compiled an average of .398 to go along with 12 homeruns and 43 RBI.

Even with all of the offensive success that UL-Lafayette has had in 2013, it was almost a necessity if they hoped to have the season that they had. Their pitching staff has compiled a team ERA of 4.46 and are led by ace Austin Robichaux (3.20 ERA). For them to be successful in this weekend, UL-Lafayette will have to produce runs. If they can do that, then there shouldn't be a whole lot that will get in their way. It should be expected that the Cajuns will play LSU at some point this weekend in what would be a rematch from earlier this season, a game that LSU won by a score of 11-2. Overall, they should be very competitive this weekend.

In terms of what the pitching rotation will look like this weekend for the Cajuns, they will send junior Ryan Wilson (6-4, 3.35 ERA) to the mound on Friday, Robichaux will go on Saturday and junior Cody Boutte (8-3, 5.27 ERA) on Sunday.

Sam Houston State: 37-20, 20-7 (Regular-season champions of Southland Conference)

Team Batting Average: .291
Team ERA: 3.71
Top Hitter: Kevin Miller (.338, 2 HR, 37 RBI)
Top Starting Pitcher: LHP Caleb Smith (7-5, 3.23 ERA)

Sam Houston State enters the Baton Rouge Regional because they were able to win the regular-season Southland Conference title. Not only did they win their own conference, but the Bearkats also had good showings against some of the top programs in the country. They defeated the University of Texas once and were able to take two games from the Owls of Rice University during the 2013 season.

Pitching has been the Achilles heel of the Sam Houston team in 2013. They have collected a team ERA of 3.71, which ranks second in the Baton Rouge Regional behind only LSU. On the mound, Caleb Smith has been the go-to-guy all season and enters the weekend with a record of 7-5 and an ERA of 3.23. The left-hander will be relied upon to get Sam Houston into a position to compete for the Regional Championship.

The pitching schedule for the Bearkats is mostly set for the weekend. Junior Cody Dickson (9-5, 4.33 ERA) will pitch on Friday with Smith going on Saturday. Sophomore Tyler Eppler will more than likely be the third starter for the Bearkats this weekend, depending on how things go.

While their starting pitching has been fairly consistent this season, the bullpen has showed some inconsistency this season. Alan Scott and Jason Simms are the top performers in this department in 2013 and have compiled ERA's of .68 and 2.98, respectively.

For Sam Houston to be successful this weekend they will have to perform well offensively and keep up their production on the mound by having their starters go deep into games. Overall, the Bearkats are a team to keep a close eye on this weekend.

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