Weekend Preview: Texas A&M

With only three weeks left in the regular season, No. 5 LSU faces Texas A&M this weekend with plenty to be decided in the conference standings.

LSU's trip to College Station for a three-game series against Texas A&M didn't exactly go according to plan.

The No. 5 Tigers hopped on a charter flight from Baton Rouge shortly after 3 p.m. The plane was in the air for about 20 minutes before the pilots had to turn back around because of mechanical problems with the plane.

SCHEDULE/PITCHING MATCHUPS

GAME 1: Friday, 6:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Net)
LSU - RHP Aaron Nola (7-1, 1.40)
A&M - RHP Parker Ray (4-3, 5.48)

GAME 2: Saturday, Noon (ESPN2)
LSU - LHP Jared Poché (6-3, 2.59)
A&M - RHP Daniel Mengden (3-6, 4.00)

GAME 3: Sunday, 1 p.m. (ESPNU)
LSU - TBD
A&M - RHP Grayson Long (6-1, 2.79)
The team got back to Alex Box Stadium around 8:45 p.m. for a quick workout before getting right back on the plane two hours later. LSU finally reached its destination around midnight, about eight hours behind schedule.

Now the Tigers will just hope that isn't a bad omen for the weekend.

LSU will have its hands full against a Texas A&M team riding high after a series victory against Mississippi State a week ago. The Aggies have also won series against Vanderbilt and Florida this season, so they've grown used to squaring off against SEC giants in their second year in the conference.

"There's no question we have a tiger on our hands," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "They're feeling good about themselves. They're feeling confident, and they're a good ball club…It's going to be a tremendous challenge for the pitchers, but this is the thing, we're pretty confident in ourselves as well."

The Tigers have every reason to be confident. They've won each of their last four conference series and 14 of their last 17 contests.

But even with that success over the last month, LSU still finds itself in mired in the logjam that is the SEC standings. The Tigers are a 0.5 game behind division leaders Alabama and Ole Miss, and only 2.5 games ahead of Texas A&M, who ranks sixth in the division.

With both teams ranked in the top 38 of the NCAA RPI, this weekend will have big ramifications on the postseason picture.

"It's very nerve-wracking," Mainieri said. "We've got 10 games left, nine in conference play, and it seems like an eternity. We've been going at it pretty hard for 11 weeks…and nothing's been determined. I don't take anything for granted. I've been around long enough to know, you have to earn everything you get."

Aaron Nola will take the mound for Friday's series opener with hopes of bouncing back from a disappointing outing last week against Tennessee. He surrendered a season-high five earned runs and walked four on eight hits.

"I'm definitely anxious to get back out there," Nola said. "It's never good when I have a start like that. It's not a good feeling. Waiting a week, it feels really long."

The whole pitching staff has a similar feeling to Nola. The Tigers surrendered 17 runs last weekend against Tennessee, tied for the second most in a weekend this year. They followed that up with a surprisingly rough night against Alcorn State on Tuesday, giving up a season-high 16 hits.

"We definitely have to make more quality pitches," Nola said. "We've all learned from our mistakes. Coach Dunn talked about that. We're definitely going to bounce back and be successful this weekend."

LSU will be missing one key bullpen arm this weekend. Hunter Devall did not make the trip to College Station while suffering from soreness in his shoulder. Devall has the third-best ERA among relievers at 1.56 in 17 1/3 innings this season.

His primary role recently has come on Sundays, relieving Alden Cartwright after his short starts. That Sunday start remains TBA, but Mainieri said Cartwright will likely be the guy if he's not used Friday or Saturday.

But without one of its key relievers, someone else in the LSU bullpen will have to step up.

"When you're a little bit thin to start with, then you lose one of your guys, it has an effect," Mainieri said. "But these things have a funny way of working out in the end without predicting exactly how."

BREAKING DOWN THE AGGIES


SEASON OVERVIEW

Texas A&M entered conference play 13-5 and have had an up-and-down go during the SEC schedule. The Aggies have won only three of seven conference series, though those three wins have come against Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Two of the losses though have been against Auburn, the seventh team in the West, and Georgia, the sixth team in the East.

PITCHING STAFF

The Aggie starters have had a rough time this season, as all three in this weekend's rotation have ERAs above 4.32 in conference play. Friday's starter, Parker Ray, will make only his second conference start of the year as his action's primarily come out of the bullpen. But he replaces Tyler Stubblefield in the Friday spot after he surrendered four runs on four hits and three walks in one inning against Mississippi State.

LSU didn't have much success against Saturday starter Daniel Mengden a year ago. He allowed only one run against the Tigers and struck out five on only five hits. Grayson Long has been the steadiest of the three starters, leading the team with a 2.79 ERA in all games this season, but he's had his struggles in SEC play.

LINEUP

Texas A&M has one of the top hitting teams in the conference, with a .292 team batting average that ranks them third in the SEC. The Aggies have 104 extra base hits on the year, and their 231 strikeouts are the second lowest in the conference. Texas A&M has four regular starters with batting averages above .300, including Nick Banks' who's .343 clip is good for 14th in the SEC.


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