Tigers make trip to West Coast

LSU travels to face Long Beach State this weekend to renew what's been a very interesting series between the two traditional college baseball powers.

The LSU Tigers took part in three extra inning games last season.

Fortunately, coach Smoke Laval's team was able to win all three prolonged contests, all in memorable fashion.

In the first series of the year, the Tigers needed 13 innings to dispose of Birmingham Southern 6-5. And no one will forget LSU's Jake Tompkins fighting out of ninth- and tenth-inning jams allowing the Tigers to win their series opener with the Gators 5-4 in Gainesville.

And there is no question anyone could forget LSU's 11-inning, 5-4 win over Long Beach State last year in the series finale.

How could they?

With thermometers in the press box reading an actual temperature of 30 degrees (with wind chills in the 20s), the Tigers' Matt Heath hit a game winning home run in the bottom half of the 11th frame to give LSU a 2-1 series victory. Over 7,000 fans paid to see it, but only about 1,000 actually made it into the ballpark.

LBSU ace hurler Abe Alvarez notched an 8-3 win over the Tigers in the first game of the series, but LSU battled back to win game two 10-2 and pulled out a win on a blustery Sunday.

Last season's weekend slate marked a renewal of a series dominated by LSU. Before the Dirtbags came to the Capital City a year ago, the only meetings between the Tigers and Long Beach had come in postseason action.

The two squads met in the 1989 College World Series resulting in an 8-5 LSU victory. Four years later, the Tigers faced the Dirtbags three times in Omaha and staved off elimination with a 6-5 win advancing to the championship game. LSU beat Wichita State 8-0 a day later.

Long Beach fell victim to the Tigers 7-1 in the opening round before knocking off coach Skip Bertman's team 10-8 in game three.

The Dirtbags' only visit to Alex Box Stadium prior to last season was a 1997 berth in an NCAA regional, when they were sent home with a 14-7 loss at the hands of LSU. The Tigers won the national title that year as well.

The tide has turned a bit as LSU makes their first-ever trip to the west coast. Long Beach will be favored over Laval's Tigers and the Dirtbags will have LSU on their home turf for a change. LBSU is also the higher-ranked team registering at No. 8 in the polls. The Tigers are No. 13.

LBSU boasts one of the nation's top pitching staffs, led by pre-season All-Americans junior LHP Abe Alvarez (4-0, 1.23 ERA) and sophomore RHP Jered Weaver (2-2, 1.80). LBSU returns seven pitchers to a staff that had a 3.54 ERA in 2002, 11th-best in the nation.

Alvarez is rated the 42nd best junior and the 47th best collegian in the country, while Weaver is rated the 15th-best sophomore, according to Baseball America.

Senior IF Tim Hutting (Newhall) is riding a 12-game hit streak into this weekend, batting .340 in 12 starts at short and second. Hutting is also leading the club with 11 RBIs, has a ..426 slugging percentage and and is the co-leader with three steals.

Freshman All-American Brad Davis (Mission Viejo, CA) is batting .255 with a team-best eight runs and six RBIs. Davis is tied for the club lead with three doubles and has a ..300 slugging percentage on the year.

Mike Weathers (mattbrownphoto.com)

Long Beach head coach Mike Weathers (mattbrownphoto.com)

Series Notes

- Head coach Mike Weathers has been named an assistant coach for USA Baseball. The National Team, which has featured six Dirtbags (Chris Gomez, Jason Giambi, Rocky Biddle, Bobby Crosby, Jeremy Reed, Abe Alvarez), will play in the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic this summer. The selection is awaiting final approval from the U.S. Olympic Committee. Former LBSU head coach Dave Snow was an assistant with Team USA in 1992, 1995 and 1996.

- Blair Field, the home of the Dirtbags, is a pitchers' park, and it has the numbers to back it up. Blair Field is the ninth toughest place to score runs at in the country. Statistically speaking, LBSU has a rating of 74 at home, while Binghamton has the lowest rating of 59. In other words, teams score 26 percent fewer runs at Blair than the average college ballpark. Over the past five years, the team's ERA is nearly a run fewer per game at home, usually in the mid-3.00 range, than on the road. This year's home ERA is 1.86.

- Saturday and Sunday's games against LSU on March 1 and 2 will be televised by Jumbo Sports Network in Louisiana. The games will be carried live in Louisiana on network affiliates and live or tape delayed on Comcast Sports Southeast.

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