One of the hottest teams in college baseball is bracing for another run toward the College World Series.
LSU won 14 of its final 16 contests, including a pair of victories against top-ranked Florida to end the regular season and a third over the Gators in the SEC Tournament. In doing so, the Tigers earned the No. 8 seed in the tournament, which was good for the final national seed overall.
Here’s a quick look at LSU’s road ahead:
3 reasons why LSU got here
Is there a hotter team in the nation? As mentioned earlier, the Tigers secured 14 wins in the final 16 games, finishing the season red-hot in the SEC Tournament and into the postseason. That led to the Tigers nabbing the No. 5 spot in the Baseball America college rankings, where they were joined by three other SEC powers. LSU’s strong end to the season also led to boosts in other rankings, including a spot in the top 10 for the Collegiate Baseball top 25 and D1baseball.com.
Much of that success has come in the friendly confines of Alex Box Stadium. LSU has reeled off seven wins in its last eight home games. On Friday, the Tigers will return home to host the No. 4 seed, Utah Valley, the WAC champions making their first appearance in the NCAA baseball tournament. They will also face either Rice or Southeastern Louisiana in The Box again on Saturday.
LSU’s pitching has helped to drive much of the team’s success during this hot streak. Coach Paul Mainieri has been mum on the topic of who will get the nod against Utah Valley in the Tournament opener, but the decision will likely be between left hander Jared Poche and righty Alex Lange. Poche and Lange lead the Tigers with seven wins apiece and have combined for four wins in the last 16 games.
It can’t go unnoticed that LSU topped the No. 1-ranked team in the country three times in five games, all of which took place in a nine-day span. The Tigers took the first two games in a three-game home series against Florida to close out the regular season, then edged the Gators in a 14-inning thriller during the SEC Tournament.
Those victories highlight LSU’s late-season surge, but the team also came through with some noticeable wins early on in the season. LSU went toe-to-toe with then No. 2-ranked Texas A&M in late March, stealing one victory out of three on the road at Olsen Field. Two of the three games were decided by two runs or less.
LSU won the series against then No. 6-ranked Vanderbilt, earning a lopsided victory in the series opener before winning the second game and falling just short of taking the sweep. Of course, those contests were played at Alex Box Stadium.
Finally, LSU nearly fell victim to a historic sweep at the hands of Mississippi State in late April before salvaging a win in the final game of the three-game series at home. However, the Tigers bounced back in their SEC Tournament bout with the Bulldogs to win, 6-2, during their streak.
Last time LSU made it Omaha
The last time the Tigers went to the Cornhusker State, they left as national champions. That was in 2009, when LSU embarked on a monumental run to take home the hardware.
LSU swept Southern, Baylor and Minnesota in the regional round, then followed suit against Rice in the super regionals. In the first round of the College World Series, the Tigers ousted Virginia and Arkansas twice to advance to their first Finals in nine years.
LSU made their return to the championship count, too. Against Texas, the Tigers mounted a comeback in Game 1. After coming up short in the second game, LSU posted 11 runs in a lopsided victory to win the best-of-three series, nab their sixth national title and return to the top of the NCAA baseball world for the first time since 2000.
Opponent to watch
The Baton Rouge Regional is loaded with dangerous teams. Utah Valley, LSU’s first opponent on Friday, has reeled off seven consecutive wins, including four in a row to take the WAC Baseball Tournament last week. More impressive, the team did it in stunning fashion, outscoring their opponents 26-14 during the four tournament games. Southeastern has had its bright spots this season, too. Another Louisiana power, Southeastern has two victories over ranked opponents (Tulane, Louisiana-Lafayette). However, the team fell to LSU, 11-4, in their April 20 meeting.
But perhaps LSU’s biggest fear should come from Rice. The Owls have made 22 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament and are as storied of a baseball program as there is the nation. Rice boasts a winning record at home and on the road. At one point in the season, Rice won 20 games in a 25-game span. If the Owls regain their stride at the right time, they could pose a threat to LSU’s chances of moving on.