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SUPER REGIONAL PREVIEW: Another Shot At The Volunteers

Gus Stark / LSU Sports

Isn’t it super? The LSU Tigers (34-22, 13-17 SEC) are headed to Knoxville, Tennessee to take on Southeastern Conference foe Tennessee Volunteers (48-16, 20-10 SEC) in a best-of-three Super Regional Series with a trip to the College World Series in Omaha on the line. During the second weekend of conference play, the Tigers previously visited Rocky Top, and if you remember, were swept, including two gut-wrenching walk-offs in about a four hour time period during both ends of a double header. Again, let me reiterate, that was the second of ten weekends in the SEC. While the Tigers only went 13-17 in the conference, they started out 1-8 and they have played marked better baseball since the last time that the Vols have seen them.

The Vols have also been playing some pretty good baseball since the Tigers last saw them, winding up the SEC East Champions, SEC Tournament runners up, and a Top Eight National Seed when all was said and done. This rematch will definitely give both teams a chance to prove that the early season meeting’s result wasn’t a fluke on either side.

Tennessee Pitching Staff

SP Chad Dallas 10-1, 4.27 ERA, 90.2 IP, 106 K, 19 BB, .236 BAA (5.58 K:BB)

RP Sean Hunley 7-4, 8 SV, 3.04 ERA, 68 IP, 71 K, 11 BB, .211 BAA (6.45 K:BB)

SP Blade Tidwell 9-3, 3.25 ERA, 88.2 IP, 80 K, 32 BB, .233 BAA (2.50 K:BB)

RP Camden Sewell 2.87 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 47 IP, 42 K, 13 BB, .183 BAA (3.23 K:BB)

Team Totals: 3.42 ERA, 48-16, 3 SHO, 17 SV

This staff leads the entire conference in cumulative pitching ERA (3.42), which is actually quite hard to believe considering the staffs that LSU has faced this season.

Going for Tony Vitello and the Vols in Game One against the Tigers Ma’Khail Hilliard will be righty Chad Dallas, who, quite frankly, gave the Tigers fits back in March, striking out 11 in a one run performance. Like I mentioned before, that was a 1-5 Tiger ball club with five new freshmen or COVID freshmen in the lineup in their first SEC road trip. The strikeouts have not gotten drastically better for this Tigers ballclub, but they have improved, meanwhile Dallas has allowed four or more runs in four of five of his last five starts, so the previous result earlier this season can definitely be improved upon. Dallas was fourth in the SEC in wins with ten, while Vols closer Sean Hunley is fourth in the SEC in saves with eight.

Volunteer Bats

Liam Spence .346/.478/.483, 11 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 34 RBI, 52 BB, 46 SO

Jake Rucker .323/.494/.393, 19 2B, 2 3B, 7 HR, 51 RBI, 25 BB, 61 SO

Drew Gilbert .281/.443/.349, 12 2B, 9 HR, 60 RBI, 15 BB, 37 SO, 10 SB

Max Ferguson .264/.485/.387, 11 2B, 2 3B, 12 HR, 46 RBI, 45 BB, 66 SO, 15 SB

Team Totals: .281/.474/.386

The left side of the Vols infield can not only field, but they lead the team offensively. Third baseman Jake Rucker was named an All American earlier this week for his performance this season in addition to being named First Team All-SEC while Shortstop Liam Spence was also named to the First Team All-Conference team. As a team, the Vols have bashed 92 homers on the year, and have collected 128 doubles, so they can mash. There will be a huge emphasis for the Tigers pitchers this weekend on keeping the Vols to soft contact and station to station, because they will hit if you feed it to them.

Super Success

Look, if you ask anyone BUT LSU and its fans, LSU is playing with house money right now having gotten this far; however that’s not simply the case. The Tigers are playing with their very hard earned money. It’s a culmination of a young team coming into its own, a crazy year for an entire world, a coach with failing health retiring at the end of the summer, and just enough crazy fans to stick it out enough long enough to see where it landed them—and that’s in the final sixteen teams left playing in the country. Sure there may be a flying cleat here, a balk or a fortuitous bounce there to help you out, but that takes absolutely zero away from all that was done to get to that point and thereafter.

For the Tigers to succeed and get out of Knoxville with two wins this weekend they need not to repeat history. These are the Super Regionals, they’re not supposed to be easy, but having faced these guys three times already this season is the best scouting report out there. As far as history is concerned, the late inning leads, hold them. The two walk-offs in four hours last time the Tigers were on Rocky Top are the difference in getting out of there 0-3 and 2-1.

LSU has everything that it takes to win two out of three contests this weekend in Knoxville. They’ve got Marceaux, Hilliard, Crews, Morgan, Dugas and Bianco firing on all cylinders plus the emergence of Javen Coleman out of the bullpen and Devin Fontenot rounding back into form at exactly the right time. They showed grit and guts to come through the losers bracket in Oregon last weekend to take out a top sixteen regional host, and now have a shot to not only take out a Top Eight National Seed, but a conference foe, and get a little bit of vengeance for an early season embarrassment while they’re at it. Like I said last weekend, all things considered with how these guys have been playing the last few weeks plus it being Paul Mainieri’s swan song, don’t count the Tigers out!

Game Times

• Saturday, June 12 @ 6 p.m. CT (ESPN2)

• Sunday, June 13 @ 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. CT (ESPN2 or ESPNU)

• Monday, June 14 (if necessary) @ 3 or 6 p.m. CT (ESPN2 or ESPNU)