The first time you saw LSU's portion of the bracket, you probably had a few knee jerk reactions, such as "Wait, why are we not the #1 overall seed, Adam lied to us", "Oh my God we get Tulane in our regional", "We're paired with Houston, we're going to get our revenge! THEY DREW FIRST BLOOD!", or "Wait or we could get ULL, this is the best draw ever."
Well, if we learned anything from last year then we know it isn't a good idea to get caught looking ahead and we should take it one game at a time, and don't make any guarantees that we're winning any game. So let's take the teams in the Baton Rouge regional under the microscope.
2-UNC Wilmington Seahawks
Record: 39-16 (18-6 Colonial)
UNC Wilmington was swept earlier this month by the College of Charleston, but beat the Cougars in the last two games of the Colonial Athletic Conference tournament to win the conference. I think those last 2 wins over the weekend were what lifted the Seahawks into the #2 spot.
As much attention as LSU has gotten for having 8 starters with batting averages over .300, UNCW has 8 batting over .290. By all accounts, these guys can rake with the best of em. Terrance Connelly leads the Seahawks barrage with a .354 average, but the most important part of his statline is the 40 walks he's worked. UNCW's OBP of .386 is nearly identical to LSU's, they just get on differently. I'm not saying the Seahawks play small ball, but they live off of the leadoff walk and "Death By A Thousand Singles".
From a pitching standpoint, the Seahawks Achilles heels is their starting pitching. Out of their weekend rotation of Ryan Foster, Nick Monroe, and Evan Phillips, Foster has the lowest ERA at 4.42. That's not not terrible per se, but against a lineup like LSU it's like a firefighter wearing wool. What the Seahawks lack with starting pitching, they make up for with their bullpen, kind of the inverse of how it is with LSU. Jordan Ramsey leads the charge with a 1.60 ERA stemming from 27 appearances, recording 60 strikeouts in the process, the same amount at Ryan Foster, who has 34 more innings under his belt. Should LSU meet UNCW in the regional, the best case for the Tigers is to hope Tulane gives UNCW more than they bargained for and use Ramsey on Friday. He still should be able to go on Saturday, but I don't think UNCW can turn to him three days in a row.
3-Tulane Green Wave
Record: 34-23 (13-11 American)
Tulane got hot at the right time, winning 4 of their last 5 American Athletic series with their only loss being to Houston before going 1-2 in the conference tournament. Make no mistake about it, the Green Wave were a a bubble team and are lucky to be in.
Stephen Alemais leads the Green Wave with the only BA over .300, sitting at .314 but with only 22 RBIs, which puts him on second on the team. Tulane just doesn't score as many runs as LSU or UNC-Wilmington, scoring only 243 runs compared to the Tigers' 414 or the Seahawks' 394. Lex Kaplan is the Wave's only big bat, swinging a .239/.415/.339 slash with 7 dingers to his name. Like I said, they don't score a lot.
I'm not going to say the Tulane battery makes up for their offense, but it is a sort of positive return to the mean. 3 of the 4 Tulane starters (yes four, I miss the days when we had four solid starters too) have ERAs under 3, and Corey Merrill is the anchor of that rotation, throwing 97 innings on the year while maintaining sparkling 2.04 ERA. He'll probably be who Tulane throws Saturday. LSU has only faced Patrick Duester in the two midweek games this year, touching him up for a combined 7 runs in the two starts.
4-Lehigh Mountain Hawks
Record: 25-29 (12-8 Patriot)
Lehigh is...I mean, good for them for winning the Patriot League tournament and getting a spot reserved in the field of 64. Because there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell for them to get in by themselves. To wit: the Mountain Hawks went from March 8th to April 4th with only 2 wins, posting a abysmal 2-16 record. But Lehigh did enough to get into the conference tournament, where they ran the table.
Lehigh has three batters who swing over .300 in Mike Garzillo, Justin Pacchioli, and Jacen Nalesnik. Garzillo is the real pop in the lineup, touting a .363/.657/.428 line and 13 home runs (Chris Chinea leads LSU with 11, for comparison). Hitting isn't a problem for Lehigh, it's just the timing of the hitting that troubles the Mountain Hawks. During their winless drought there was plenty of 1 or 2 run games that just didn't go in their favor.
Things are pretty pedestrian for the Lehigh pitching staff, with the lowest ERA being a modest 2.82 owned by Nick Macaione. Macaione is also tied for team lead for most strikeouts at...43.
At least their name is something the students in right field can work with.
Everybody is of course looking forward to a potential Saturday night postseason game with Tulane, but I honestly doubt we get to face off with them. I think LSU will beat Lehigh Friday and UNCW on Saturday behind Lange, then meet up with the Seahawks again on Sunday for a much more interesting matchup. That isn't to say I don't want to have Tulane in that kind of atmosphere, because I definitely do. But c'est la vie.