LSU Athletics/courtesy
Sophomore right-hander Zack Hess will likely start on Saturday for LSU, potentially against top-seed Oregon State.

What LSU baseball is up against in Corvallis Regional this weekend

Nick Suss

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The postseason is now

The LSU baseball team opens NCAA Tournament play on Friday with a matchup against San Diego State in the Corvallis Regional at 3 p.m. CT on ESPNU and online through WatchESPN. LSU needs three combined wins over No. 3 Oregon State, San Diego State and Northwestern State to advance to the Super Regionals, a task that won’t come easy.

The first obstacle, obviously, is beating San Diego State on Friday. The Aztecs are quite adept at landing the ball safely in play, ranking 10th in the nation in batting average (.305) and hits (623), and 14th in doubles (122). As far as pitching goes, San Diego State is less of a threat from the start, but gets a little scarier toward the end of games. LSU will face senior Jorge Fernandez on Friday, a right-handed starter with a 4.65 ERA in 60 innings this season. If Fernandez doesn’t work out, San Diego State has a reliable bullpen, however, with freshman Casey Schmitt holding 9 saves and a 0.28 ERA in 32 innings and freshman Christian Winston posting a 1.76 ERA in 15⅓ relief innings.

After San Diego State, the competition becomes Oregon State. The Beavers are one of the most dangerous teams in the country again, with six regular starters batting at least .300 and four slugging above .500. Two Beavers — outfielder Trevor Larnach and infielder Nick Madrigal – are semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award, and Larnach, Madrigal, catcher Adley Rutschman and shortstop Cadyn Grenier earned All-America status. Then there’s starting pitchers Luke Heimlich and Bryce Fehmel, who have a combined 23-2 record with ERAs of 2.49 and 2.81, respectively, or closer Jake Mulholland, who is tied for 11th in the nation with 14 saves.

On top of all this is Oregon State’s home-field advantage. The Beavers haven’t lost a series at home since May 2016, including victories in NCAA Regional and Super Regional play in 2017. Over the last two seasons, Oregon State is 53-6 at Goss Stadium.

It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: LSU baseball won’t have an easy road to the Super Regionals this year. Oregon State might be the most complete team in the country, and San Diego State is no slouch. But the Tigers have some strengths, too. Namely, an offense that has averaged 5.8 runs per game since the start of May. As for the pitching, well, that’ll need its own section.

As for LSU baseball’s pitching …

LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri confirmed on Thursday that freshmen pitchers Ma’Khail Hilliard and AJ Labas will not be available in the Corvallis Regional. Both had been battling arm soreness and, upon throwing on Wednesday and Thursday, were shelved to protect their arms.

What does that leave LSU with? Well, sophomore left-hander Nick Bush will start for the Tigers Friday versus San Diego State. And sophomore right-hander Zack Hess will be on regular rest for Saturday, whether the Tigers are playing Oregon State or Northwestern State. Beyond Bush and Hess, LSU is left in a bit of a rough situation.

Junior right-hander Caleb Gilbert has made 11 starts this season but has been struggling lately. Struggles aside, Gilbert shut down Oregon State in the College World Series in 2017, allowing 1 run on 2 hits in 7 innings to send the Tigers to the College World Series finals.

Beyond Gilbert, Bush and Hess, LSU only has nine starts available: Three from relief aces Todd Peterson and Cam Sanders, two from sophomore Matthew Beck and one from freshman Devin Fontenot. Peterson and Sanders are expected to be staples in the LSU bullpen based off their dazzling performances during the SEC Tournament, so expect Beck or Fontenot to shoulder the opening innings if LSU has to go to a fourth game, or if Gilbert continues to pitch in relief because of his less-than-stellar season as a starter.

It might not sound comforting to know LSU’s pitching situation. But this is what the Tigers have. Hilliard and Labas aren’t healthy. Nick Storz has never been healthy. Gilbert has underwhelmed. Someone needs to step up.

As for LSU basketball …

It’s not the time of year to care about Will Wade’s LSU men’s basketball crew, but here’s a recruiting update:

That’s right. Two more players have been added to LSU’s signing class. Both are junior college transfers, with Danya Kingsby holding two more years of eligibility and Courtese Cooper possessing three more. Kingsby is a 6-foot-1 guard and Cooper is a 6-9 forward.

Kingsby and Cooper join 5-star signees Naz Reid and Emmitt Williams, 4-star signees JaVonte Smart and Darius Days and fellow junior college transfer Marlon Taylor in the team’s top-3-rated 2018 signing class.

Today in made-up holidays

Need an excuse to watch LSU baseball? According to the folks at NationalDayCalendar.com, June 1, 2018, is “National Leave The Office Early Day.” So just tell your boss you’re celebrating a holiday and go home to watch LSU play San Diego State.

The world is almost begging you to do it. So do it. Case closed.

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