LSU ended the season as the hottest team in college baseball by running through the SEC Tournament like yellow light, extending their win streak to 11 and winning 15 of their last 17 games. They scored 10 runs or more for four straight games in that win streak, having that combo broken Sunday when they beat Arkansas 4-2 to win the SEC Championship.
That win closed the book on LSU’s postseason resume, for which they were rewarded a national seed for the sixth straight year in a row.
Fortunately for LSU, they received a highly respectable yet manageable regional. Unfortunately for baseball fans in the Baton Rouge area, the opponents are familiar...very familiar.
#2 Southeastern Louisiana Lions
Conference: Southland (2nd, 20-10)
Southeastern is probably the most familiar team in the regional, given that the school is basically a 40 minute cruise down I-12 and there is considerable overlap in the two fanbases in some way. Not only did Southeastern play in the 2016 Baton Rouge Super Regional, but also the 2014 version as well. The Lions went 1-2 in both regionals.
In addition to their meetings in the postseason, SLU is also a regular opponent for LSU in their midweek games. LSU’s series with Southeastern goes all the way back to 1937 and is a series that LSU has a commanding 67-17 lead over, with the Tigers beating the Lions 22 out of the last 23 times after their 8-2 meeting back in late March. SLU’s last win over LSU came in 2008 when they knocked off the Tigers in the old Alex Box Stadium.
Southeastern had to sweat out the selection show after finishing second in the Southland regular season standings to McNeese and going 1-2 in the Southland Tournament. If you’ll remember, they were victims of a very egregious snub in 2015. But they got in as an at-large team, and a two seed at that. The NCAA finally decided to pay attention to the Southland and it’s great to see such a good mid-major conference get the respect it has rightly earned.
If you’re looking for feathers in SLU’s caps, then you’re in luck. The Lions took a series from Rice in Houston in the second weekend of the season, beating the Owls 8-4 and 12-4 in the rubber match. They then left Houston for a two game midweek at Vanderbilt, which the Commodores won in tight contests. After Nashville, Southeastern went to Pensacola for the Cox Diamond Invitational that they swept, recording a 4-3 win over South Alabama in the process. They then returned home for a two game set against West Virginia, one of which was washed away and the other that SLU won on a walkoff home run in the 12th inning. They swept UNO to open Southland play before bossing South Alabama around to the tune of 12-4 for the season sweep of the Jags. They pulled a 10 game win streak that ended in their series finale against Will Davis’ Lamar team.
All of that before the middle of March. Impressed yet? For good measure, they also defeated Southland regular season champions McNeese and tournament champion Sam Houston State.
Southeastern actually has pretty much an identical lineup to LSU: four players in the starting lineup batting over .300 (Drew Avans, Taylor Schwaner, Carson Crites, Derrick Mount) and two players (Avans, Schwaner) with an OBP above .400. They don’t have one Greg Deichmann mega bomber but they have three batters with double digit dingers: Carson Crites (14), Schwaner (13), and Ryan Byers (11).
However, Southeastern strikes out more (424 vs. 356) than LSU. Greg Deichmann leads LSU with 49 strikeouts, but if he transferred to SLU he’d only be fourth on that list of shame. If he gets the chance to, Alex Lange has to be salivating about pitching to this Southeastern team.
Corey Gaconi is the best pitcher for Southeastern going by ERA, but Denham Springs’ own Mac Sceroler is the ace. It’s very much a Alex Lange/Jared Poche’ situation. Take a look at the numbers and tell me if you see the similarities:
Corey Gaconi: 2.83 ERA, 101.2 IP, 93 H, 36 R (32 ER), 5.50 K/BB (66/12), .239 BAA
Mac Sceroler: 3.24 ERA, 97.1 IP, 76 H, 37 R (35 ER), 3.60 K/BB (108/30), .214 BAA
Carlisle Koestler: 4.48 ERA, 64.1 IP, 52 H, 41 R (32 ER), 1.93 K/BB (54/28), .206 BAA
Gaconi gives up a lot of contact, but doesn’t allow too many runners to cross while Sceroler takes on the mantle as a more traditional power pitcher. If I had to guess, Gaconi will throw the first game against Rice and should Southeastern win, Sceroler will throw against LSU (should they also advance past Texas Southern) because Southeastern obviously does not want to give up a lot of contact to LSU.
The back of the Southeastern bullpen is very much a committee, but if they get in a position to close out a game against LSU it’s highly likely that the Lions will throw Evan Hileman. Hileman has five saves, the most for the club, and sports a 2.87 ERA with a .205 BAA and a 4.83 K/BB (29/6) but he may be needed in the Rice game should it go in Southeastern’s favor.
#3 Rice Owls
Conference: C-USA (7th, 16-14)
It seems like it’s always Rice, doesn’t it? But the two schools have only played each other 28 times and LSU leads the all-time series with Rice 16-12. And before last year, LSU had last played Rice in the 2009 Super Regional. But of those 28 meetings, 13 have come in the postseason and Rice has the series in the postseason by the slimmest of margins, 7-6.
The Owls dropped their first three series of the season to Texas, Southeastern, and Pepperdine, snapping out of their slow start against Stanford of all teams. But then, they dropped five straight series to Old Dominion, FIU, FAU, Louisiana Tech, and Southern Miss.
Then Rice closed out their season by winning their last five series, including a 26-17 football game against UAB. But things were not good and at this point they were all but out of the tournament if they didn’t win the actual C-USA tournament.
Guess what they did?
Ran through the C-USA baseball tournament to steal an automatic bid.
Oddly enough Rice is 8-8 against RPI Top 25 teams, which is pretty damn good for a three seed considering that SLU is 1-4 against the RPI Top 25.
Remember Dominic DiCaprio? He’s still with Rice and he’s still banging away, batting .365/.441/.511 with 47 RBI on 80 hits. Dane Myers is just a step behind him, swatting .360/.531/.427. Darryn Sheppard (.315) and Ford Proctor (.309) are also hitting about the .300 mark. Rice does not have one big bopper, as Sheppard leads the team with seven total with three players (DiCaprio, Myers, and Tristan Gray) all tied with six home runs. Every player in the lineup can go deep, they just don’t that often.
Rice’s pitching staff does not have any one true ace. Two arms have really carried the Owls out of the gate and they have one solid bullpen arm, but for the most part it’s pretty pedestrian. Here are the pitchers you should really know about:
Zach Esquivel: 3.62 ERA, 82 IP, 82 H, 40 R (33 ER), 1.40 K/BB (63/45), .261 BAA
Matt Canterino: 3.94 ERA, 91.1 IP, 62 H, 49 R (40 ER), 2.23 K/BB (105/47), .190 BAA
Glenn Otto: 3.97 ERA, 56.2 IP, 48 H, 34 R (25 ER), 2.78 K/BB (78/28), .223, 8 SV
Again, there is a contact arm and there is an overpowering traditional arm. Just like SLU, Rice will save Caterino for LSU to avoid giving the Tigers an arm that they can tee off on.
#4 Texas Southern Tigers
Conference: SWAC (2nd West, 14-10)
As is the sad reality for a lot of SWAC teams, Texas Southern did not win a game until March when they took two from Southern, snapping a nine-game losing streak. From there they actually had success against their league opponents, beating division champion Grambling. The Tigers then rolled through the SWAC tournament, beating conference favorite and regular season champions Jackson State twice before beating Alabama State in the title game to secure their berth in the big tournament.
Texas Southern’s RPI of 267 is the worst RPI in the tournament.
LSU last played Texas Southern in 2014 when they beat the other Tigers 4-1 in an early season weekend “tournament”, the second meeting all time between the two schools. The first came in the 2008 Baton Rouge Regional when LSU blew out TSU 12-1.
Gaudencio Lucca leads TSU in nearly every category except home runs and RBI with his crisp slash line of .315/.565/.458. Olajide Oloruntimliehin leads the power charge with 10 homer and 33 RBI. Texas Southern has two more batters hitting above .300, Gerrek Jimenez (.307) and Sterling Motley (.300 on the dot).
Seth Oliver has the most innings logged of any pitcher, but he only has 80. Oliver is one of five pitchers who have logged 50+ innings, so it would appear as if Texas Southern has few guys who are entrusted with carrying the largest workload.
Seth Oliver: 4.50 ERA, 80 IP, 78 H, 53 R (40 ER), 1.51 K/BB (65/43), .255 BAA
Michael Villanueva: 5.43 ERA, 68 IP, 58 H, 45 R (41 ER), 1.09 K/BB (63/58), .236 BAA
Anthony Martinez: 4.70 ERA, 59.1 IP, 64 H, 40 R (31 ER), 1.26 K/BB (34/27), .287 BAA
Your guess is as good as mine here when it comes to who TSU will throw Friday, but I imagine if anybody, it will be Oliver. Maybe it’s a function of not winning more games than you lose, but TSU does not have a designated closer, with four players recording a single save in the season.