LSU opens SEC play

LSU (11-3) begins Southeastern Conference action at 7 p.m. ET Friday when the Tigers face the Tennessee Volunteers (9-4) at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.

LSU won has won nine of its previous 11 games; however, the Tigers have dropped two in a row, including a 6-3 loss to Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday night.

"We're looking forward to starting SEC play against a very talented Tennessee club" said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "The SEC is the best league in the country, and I feel like we have the players to compete with every team we face. We had a setback on Tuesday night, and I felt our players were much too passive at the plate, especially early in the game. We became more aggressive, and good things started to happen. We'll need to have that aggressive approach this weekend in order to have success."

Mainieri said senior right-hander Jared Bradford will start Friday's game on the mound for LSU. Bradford defeated Stetson in his last start on March 7, limiting the Hatters to two runs on eight hits in six innings with two walks and eight strikeouts.

Bradford, a 2008 preseason all-American, enters Friday's game with a 3-0 mark and a 1.45 ERA. He defeated Tennessee last season in Baton Rouge with a complete-game effort, allowing two runs on eight hits with no walks and eight strikeouts.

Junior left-hander Ryan Verdugo (3-0, 2.40 ERA) will start Saturday's contest for the Tigers, and junior southpaw Blake Martin (1-1, 2.76 ERA) will take the mound on Sunday.

First-year Tennessee coach Todd Raleigh will counter this weekend with right-hander Steve Crnkovich (3-0, 2.21 ERA) on Friday, left-hander Bryan Morgado (2-1, 0.86 ERA on Saturday and left-hander Nick Hernandez (0-1, 5.51 ERA) on Sunday.

Raleigh and LSU associate head coach Terry Rooney worked together for one season (1998) as assistant coaches at James Madison. Raleigh also served as an assistant coach in 1999 at East Carolina, where he worked with LSU assistant coach Cliff Godwin, an ECU catcher at the time.

LSU sophomore second baseman Ryan Schimpf leads the Tigers with a .385 (20-for-52) average. He has collected five doubles, one triple, three homers and seven RBI.

Sophomore leftfielder Blake Dean is hitting .373 (19-for-51) with two doubles, one triple, four homers and 17 RBI. Junior first baseman Matt Clark is batting .354 (17-for-48), and he leads the Tigers in home runs (6) and RBI (18).

LSU is hitting .318 as a team with 20 home runs, already half their final 2007 season total of 40 dingers.

Tennessee is led at the plate by freshman outfielder Kentrail Davis, who is hitting .474 (18-for-38) with one double, one homer and 10 RBI. Junior infielder Cody Brown is batting .375 (15-for-40) with two doubles, three homers and 15 RBI.

The Vols are hitting .273 as a team with seven homers in their first 13 games. Tennessee's pitching staff has a 3.46 ERA and has recorded 104 strikeouts and 48 walks in 117 innings of work.

Game 2 of the series starts at 1 p.m. ET Saturday, and first pitch for Game 3 is 1 p.m. ET Sunday.

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