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College World Series Preview, Part Two: A preview of LSU’s potential opponents on its side of the bracket

LSU has a tough task ahead of them as its side of the bracket has No.1 overall seed Wake Forest, SEC rival Tennessee and College World Series regular Stanford.

2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Baseball Championship Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images

LSU (48-15) will join Stanford, Tennessee and Wake Forest in Bracket Two of the College World Series.

Stanford and Wake Forest will play the first game on Saturday at 1 p.m. CT while LSU will take on SEC foe Tennessee at 6 p.m. CT.

There is a ton of talent on this side of the bracket with 17 of the top 200 prospects in this year’s upcoming MLB Draft among these four teams. It will be exciting to see which of them rises to the occasion.

With that being said, let’s look at all of LSU’s potential opponents on their side of the College World Series bracket.


COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAY 26 Pac-12 Baseball Tournament
Stanford catcher Alberto Rios (11) gets a hit during a Pac-12 Baseball Tournament game between the Arizona Wildcats and the Stanford Cardinal on May 26th, 2023, at Scottsdale Stadium in Scottsdale, AZ.
Photo by Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Stanford will be making its third straight appearance to Omaha after they defeated Texas on an improbable walk-off single in game three of the Stanford Super Regional.

The Cardinal will be making its 19th overall appearance, which is tied for the most appearances with LSU among the 2023 participants of the College World Series. Stanford won two national championships in 1987 and 1988 while finishing as a runner-up three times in 2000, 2001 and 2003.

The Cardinal is led by former Stanford baseball player David Esquer. Esquer, who took over the program in 2018, has led Stanford to three straight appearances in Omaha after a 13-year drought. Before becoming the skipper at Stanford, he was the head coach at California, Stanford’s archrival, from 2000-2017. He led the Golden Bears to a College World Series appearance in 2011 and received the 2011 Pac-10 Coach of the Year Award

Stanford is one of the best hitting teams in the country as they are second in hits behind fellow College World Series participant Virginia, ninth in batting average and 10th in home runs.

Its batting lineup is led by Pac 12 Player of the Year Alberto Rios. Rios is batting .387 from the plate with 23 doubles and 18 homers, which are both team-highs.

Infielder Tommy Troy is another excellent hitter for Stanford as he won the Pac 12 Batting Title as led the conference in batting average at the end of the regular season. Troy has a .397 batting average with 96 hits, 17 doubles, four triples, 17 home runs and 58 RBIs.

All-Pac 12 members Braden Montgomery and designated hitter, as well as Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Malcolm Moore, are some other names you need to watch out for. Second baseman Drew Bowser has recorded a home run in each of his last three games.

Although Stanford’s pitching rotation may be the weakest in Bracket Two, that doesn’t mean they have capable arms as well.

Quinn Mathews, who was named the Pac 12 Pitcher of the Year, is Stanford’s ace. Matthews leads the staff with a 3.60 ERA in 120 innings with 152 strikeouts. So Stanford could keep its bullpen fresh, he threw a 156-pitch complete game in game two of the supers and he was brilliant, recording 16 strikeouts and allowing three runs on eight hits. He made national headlines because of the absurd number of pitches he threw.

If reliever Ryan Bruno is in control he can be a huge difference-maker with his dominant stuff that helped him strike out 54 batters in 33 innings this year. Pitchers Brandt Pancer and Joey Dixon are arms that Stanford will need to step up if the Cardinal wants to make a run in Omaha.


COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAY 23 SEC Baseball Tournament - Tennessee vs Texas A&M
Tennessee outfielder Christian Scott (8) during the 2023 SEC Baseball Tournament game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Texas A&M Aggies on May 23, 2023 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama.
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tennessee will be making its sixth appearance in the College World Series and its second in the last three seasons.

Tennessee went undefeated in the Clemson Regional before defeating Southern Miss in two out of three games in the Hattiesburg Super Regional to advance to the College World Series.

Tony Vitello is in his sixth season as the skipper of the Volunteers. Vitello has done a great job building this program into a national brand as he has led Tennessee to two College World Series appearances and three 40-plus win seasons.

Although this year’s lineup is the murderer’s row like it was last year, there is still plenty of talent with studs like Maui Ahuna, Jared Dickey, Griffin Merritt, Christian Moore and Zane Denton.

Ahuna is batting .302 from the plate with 19 doubles, a triple, eight homers and 41 RBIs. Dickey, who was given All-SEC honors, has a team-high .325 batting average with six doubles, three triples, 12 homers and 51 RBIs. Merritt has blasted a team-high 18 home runs. Moore has recorded 12 doubles, 17 homers and has stolen 16 bases on 18 attempts.

Denton has had several clutch home runs this postseason, including a go-ahead 3-run homer in the ninth against Clemson and a 3-run homer in game three against Southern Miss. Denton has recorded nine doubles, three triples and 16 homers on the year.

Tennessee is one of the best pitching units in the country as they are second nationally in ERA (3.57), strikeouts (708), strikeouts per nine innings (12.2), and WHIP (1.15). The Volunteers are also fourth in hits allowed per nine innings (7.47).

Not only are the Volunteers deep, but they also have first-round talent in their rotation with Andrew Lindsey, Chase Dollander, Drew Beam, Chase Burns, and Seth Halvorsen.

Dollander and Burns each have over 100 strikeouts on the season, while Beam and Lindsey have the best ERAs of those four with Beam having a 3.78 and Lindsey having a 2.79 ERA. Halvorsen has 50 strikeouts in 50 innings pitched coming out of the bullpen.

Wake Forest

Pittsburgh v Wake Forest
Wake Forest All-American pitcher Rhett Lowder throws a pitch against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the fourth inning during the ACC Baseball Championship at Durham Bulls Athletic Park on May 25, 2023 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

Wake Forest, the No.1 overall seed in this season’s tournament, advanced to its first College World Series in 1955. The Demon Deacons hope they can break the No.1 Seed Curse as the No.1 national seed hasn’t won the College World Series since 1999.

The Demon Deacons scored 10-plus runs in all but one game this postseason, including scoring 20-plus runs twice. Wake Forest swept the Winston-Salem Regional by defeating George Mason twice and Maryland before sweeping No.15 national seed Alabama in supers.

This is only the third time Wake Forest has advanced to the College World Series. The first time the Demon Deacons went to the College World Series was in 1949, when it was played in Wichita, Kansas and the Demon Deacons were runners-up to Texas. The other time was in 1955 when Wake Forest defeated Western Michigan to win its first and only national championship.

When anyone talks about Wake Forest baseball, it’s impossible to not talk about its elite pitching staff, which many consider to be the best in the country. The Demon Deacons lead the country in ERA (2.84), hits allowed per nine innings (6.61), strikeouts (738), strikeouts per nine innings (12.2) and WHIP (1.04). Wake Forest is also tied for first in shutouts (10) with LSU.

Wake Forest has four capable starters in its rotation with All-American and ACC Pitcher of the Year Rhett Lowder (15-0), Seth Keener (7-1), Sean Sullivan (5-3) and Josh Hartle (11-2). All four have under a 3.00 ERA with Lowder having a team-high 1.92 ERA.

Lowder, Hartle and Sullivan all have over 100 strikeouts. Both Lowder and Hartle have 131 and Sullivan has 86.

Wake Forest is also one of the best offensive teams in the country as they are second in walks (404), third in runs scored (583) and on-base percentage (.432), fourth in home runs (129), sixth in slugging percentage (0.556).

First baseman Nick Kurtz has a batting average of .370, which is a team-high. Kurtz, who received First Team All-ACC honors, has recorded 10 doubles, 24 home runs and 69 RBIs. He also has a team-high .538 on-base percentage.

Third baseman Brock Wilken leads the ACC in home runs with 30 and has recorded a team-high 80 RBIs. Wilken also leads the team in slugging percentage (.835)

Second baseman Justin Johnson has a .341 batting average with 15 doubles, three triples, 16 home runs and 76 RBIs.