No.1 LSU and No.10 Tennessee will face off in one of the most anticipated games of the year in college baseball.
LSU was the king of SEC baseball for over 30 years. LSU head coach Jay Johnson has done a fantastic job in recruiting as well as fixing its biggest weaknesses last season through the transfer portal. Due to the return of outfielder Dylan Crews and 1B/LF Tre Morgan as well as swooping All-Americans pitcher Paul Skenes and third baseman Tommy White through the portal, LSU is the consensus No.1 overall team in the country.
However, the new kids on the block that reside in Knoxville, Tennessee have been the premier team of the SEC in the last few seasons due to Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello’s recruiting prowess and the development of his players, especially in its pitching staff.
Here are three things to look out for this weekend.
Skenes vs. Dollander
Every college baseball fan was marking March 30 on their calendars, and they are not insane in the smallest. LSU’s Paul Skenes and Tennessee’s Chase Dollander are projected to be the first two pitchers to be taken in this year’s MLB draft. These types of pitching matchups are not necessarily rare in college baseball, but they do not happen very often.
Skenes may be the best pitcher in the country right now. Skenes (5-0) has a 0.72 ERA, which is second in the country, and has only allowed 14 hits through 37.1 innings pitched. Skenes is first in strikeouts (71), hits allowed per nine innings (3.38), pitching wins (5) and WHIP (0.56).
Dollander (4-2) is the best pitcher on Tennessee’s pitching staff, which is considered one of the best pitching staff in the country, if not the best. Dollander, who is a first-team All-American on almost every collegiate baseball poll, has an ERA of 3.93 and has hurled 53 strikeouts this season.
The only question remains who will win the pitching duel between these two pitching behemoths? We will find out Friday night.
Can LSU’s batting lineup handle Tennessee’s pitching staff?
LSU has been the best offensive team in the country as they have proven they can score five runs faster than you could blink.
LSU is first in the country in runs (278) and on-base percentage (.465). The Tigers are also second in batting average (.339) and fourth in slugging percentage. Four of LSU’s starters in the batting lineup have at least seven home runs. Crews leads LSU with nine home runs, White and DH/1B Jared Jones both have eight and second baseman Gavin Dugas has seven.
However, they are facing arguably the best pitching staff in the country led by Dollander and Chase Burns. Tennessee’s pitching staff has an ERA of 2.62, which is the best in the SEC and the third-best in the conference. Dollander and Burns have also hurled 112 strikeouts combined.
Rollercoaster of Emotions
The only thing that I can guarantee you in this matchup between two SEC powerhouses is that there will be lots of emotion.
LSU’s fans are some of the most passionate in college baseball and the facts back it up. LSU led the country in attendance from 1996 to 2019. Omaha, where the College World Series is played every year, is affectionately called “Baton Rouge North” due to the large number of LSU fans that travel there every year the Tigers advance to the College World Series.
Due to the hype around the team this season as well as a nationwide trend to hate Tennessee, Alex Box Stadium will be the rowdiest it has ever been since before the pandemic.
LSU was also warned by the umpires for its home run celebrations last week against then-No. 3 Arkansas after catcher Brady Neal’s game-tying home run late in game one of the Arkansas series last weekend and Morgan’s bat flip.
Trey Morgan goes back to back with Gavin Dugas to make it 4-2 LSU.— 11Point7: The College Baseball Podcast (@11point7) March 25, 2023
What do you think Jay Johnson said to the squad? pic.twitter.com/PA1zODRpq0
If that series was full of emotion, wait until this series against one of the most-hated college baseball teams in the country.
Ever since Tony Vitello took over Tennessee’s program, the Volunteers have been one of the fieriest teams in the country. From Vitello’s multiple ejections to former All-American Drew Gilbert’s antics, college baseball fans have a lot to say about the Volunteers. In NBA terms, the Volunteers are the Memphis Grizzlies of college baseball. Ironically, they both reside in the same state.