It's the final pit stop before conference play, and suddenly LSU is facing possibly it's toughest opponent of the year in Blake Dean's Back-from-the-dead UNO Privateers. Once one of the leaders in college baseball attendance and the first team from Louisiana to make the CWS in 1984, the Privateers have been struggling to stay alive since Hurricane Katrina devastated their university. After nearly dropping their sports teams all the way down to D3, UNO reversed course in 2013 and brought legendary coach Ron Maestri back out of retirement as UNO came back as a Southland conference team. Their prospects only moderately improved, however, and UNO still has not had a winning season since 2008.
Until now. After returning as a Grad assistant to LSU in 2013 and taking an assistant job at UNO under Maestri, Former Tiger Blake Dean was promoted to head coach this past offseason when Maestri re-retired, making him the youngest head coach in all of D1 at 28. What has happened so far in this young season is nothing short of amazing. UNO got early wins over LA Tech and Valpo, then stunningly swept the Pitt Panthers, UNO's first sweep over a Power 5 conference team since 1988. They followed that up with a dramatic walk-off win against ranked Tulane in a mid week game, then won their first ever Southland conference series against Sam Houston St. At 13-3, UNO is off to it's best start since 1981.
The Privateers are doing it the way you'd expect a Blake Dean team to: with powerful offensive output. UNO has a better team BA (.328) and OB% (.409) than LSU, and they've scored more runs (135) as well. 6 bats in the UNO lineup are hitting over .300 right now, including two over .400 in former LSU player Dakota Dean and the .455 hitting Kyle Bracey, who's is also slugging at a crazy .709 clip right now. The Privateer's weakness then is pitching. Fr. LHP Bryan Warzek (0-0, 7.43 ERA, 13.1 IP, 14 BB 13 SO) is the UNO midweek starter and will be facing his 3rd ranked team in a row after @ ULL and vs Tulane. Warzek typically only goes 3 innings and change and will likely first be followed by Keaton Brewer (1-1, 6.75 ERA, 13.1 IP, 7 BB 14 KO.) UNO has a staff ERA of 5.04, but only 4 of their arms are north of 7.50. It's not great numbers by any means, but it's been enough to keep UNO in games and let their offense swing their way out of trouble. This is a squad of highly motivated guys who are achieving what no one thought possible and you can bet they're coming into The Box tonight believing they can pull the upset.
On the LSU front, O'Neal Lockridge's back issues that caused him to miss two of the games against Ball St have now progressed to the point that he's being sent for an MRI and is out until further notice. Mainieri is likely to pick between Chris Reid and Trey Dawson to fill his spot at 3rd tonight. Alden Cartwright will get the start tonight, but will go no more than two innings, followed by short outings from the rest of the bullpen. RHP Riely Smith will be unavailable with shoulder soreness.