The SEC was loaded with talent around the diamond this season. Nine schools from the conference made it to the postseason, with Vanderbilt leading the way as the highest-seeded team. Now, nearing the end of the road, LSU and Mississippi State are the only ones left heading to the College World Series (CWS).
After sweeping Oklahoma in the Super Regional’s, the Tigers have now won eight straight games, dating back to their May 24 victory over the Crimson Tide. In five games after winning the SEC Tournament, LSU is batting .302 overall with four homers and 37 runs. Out of the eight teams heading to Omaha, Neb., the Tigers have the highest team batting average for 2013.
But it’s an all-around effort for the team out of Baton Rouge. LSU also ranks first among CWS teams in fielding percentage, walks allowed per nine innings and WHIP. All three areas of their game are solid, which has led the Tigers to a tie a school record for wins in a season (57).
They haven’t been in this position since 2009. Fortunately for senior Mason Katz, he won’t be leaving the school without a single trip to Omaha. Katz, who was named a first-team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA), can thank some of the younger talent on the roster for that.
Sophomore pitcher Aaron Nola was named a first-team All-American by the NCBWA and Baseball America, and freshman shortstop Alex Bregman made the first-team cut from Baseball America as well. Both players have been on fire throughout the postseason.
Bregman leads the team with a .380 batting average, 16 steals and seven triples. He brings the speed; Katz brings the power. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better 1-2 punch in any lineup.
Nola is 2-0 with no runs allowed and 12 strikeouts after 16 innings of work. He’s 12-0 overall with a 1.68 ERA in 16 starts this season. The Tigers pitching staff is strong throughout, but the sophomore is nearly untouchable at this point.
Guess who gets the start in LSU’s next game against UCLA? Head coach Paul Mainieri isn’t wasting any team getting his ace on the mound. Coming off a complete game two-hitter against Oklahoma, expect Nola to be ready to shut down the Bruins.
While Mississippi State is a tough team, the Bulldogs just aren’t as talented as the Tigers. It’s not a knock against head coach John Cohen’s club. Overall his team has a batting average of .297 and an ERA of 2.77. However, in the realm of Omaha, the Bulldogs rank in the middle of the road for most pitching and hitting categories.
They don’t hit the long ball often. Mississippi State has one home run so far in the postseason. Their starting pitching isn’t up to par with LSU. When you compare the two sides, it’s easy to bet on the Tigers as the front-runner for the SEC.
Now, could the Bulldogs turn some heads in the CWS? Sure. Hunter Renfroe is a first-round draft pick, the bullpen is lined with several shutdown relievers and, let’s go ahead and say it, anything is possible in Omaha. They face Oregon State next, the team ranked No. 2 in overall ERA this season. We’ll see what the Bulldog bats can do.
Look for Nola to get LSU started in the right direction. The Tigers may have been shocked by Stony Brook last year at the Super Regional’s, but they’re loaded with talent and ready to make a run this time around.