2014 Baton Rouge Regional Preview


Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field Baton Rouge (Host: LSU)

Alex Bregman (Photo by Andrew Woolley).

Alex Bregman (Photo by Andrew Woolley).

No. 1 LSU (44-14, 17-11 in SEC) Roster | Statistics
27th appearance (three straight), automatic, second place in SEC West regular season and SEC tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: RHP Aaron Nola (10)

No. 2 Houston (44-15, 14-9 in American Athletic Conference) Roster | Statistics
19th appearance (last in 2008), automatic, tied for third in American Athletic in regular season and won conference’s inaugural championship
Top 200 Prospects: None

No. 3 Bryant (42-14, 19-5 in NEC) Roster | Statistics
Second appearance (second straight), automatic, first place in Northeast Conference and NEC tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: None

No. 4 Southeastern Louisiana (37-23, 18-12 in Southland Conference) Roster | Statistics
Third appearance (last in 1994), automatic, fifth place in Southland Conference regular season, Southland tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: None

Louisiana State closed the season on a tear, beginning with May 13's 27-0 win against Northwestern State, when the Tigers threw a combined no-hitter. In their final eight games, the Tigers have outscored their opponents 87-9, helping them win the SEC tournament for the second straight year and the fifth time in the last seven years. LSU's staff is anchored by college baseball's best pitcher, junior righthander Aaron Nola (10-1, 1.49, 127-26 K-BB in 109 IP), who has pinpoint command of a 91-94 fastball that bumps 96 early in games, a big-breaking slider and a solid changeup. Coming into the season, the major questions facing LSU were who would handle the starting duties behind Nola, and who would anchor the bullpen? Crafty lefthanders Jared Poche' (9-3, 2.21) and Kyle Bouman (5-2, 2.34) provided answers in the rotation, while hard-throwing Joe Broussard (3-1, 0.89, 8 SV), who works at 93-95 and features a nice 12-to-6 curveball, has replaced Chris Cotton as closer. He has a nice supporting cast, led by LHP Zac Person, freshman righty Parker Bugg and senior righty Kurt McCune. LSU's lineup really stands out for its athleticism, especially in the outfield, where Andrew Stevenson and Mark Laird are web gems waiting to happen. Newcomers Conner Hale (.314/.341/.443, 4 HR, 27 RBI) and Kade Scivicque (.310/.387/.462, 6 HR, 30 RBI) have joined veterans Tyler Moore (.307/.386/.489, 5 HR, 34 RBI) and Sean McMullen (.286/.390/.503, 6 HR, 34 RBI) to give the Tigers a strong group of run producers around All-American Alex Bregman, who has rebounded from a rough first half to hit .301/.378/.441 with six homers and 44 RBIs. Bregman was hitting lasers at the SEC tournament, and when he's locked in, LSU is very difficult to beat.

After flirting with the postseason in coach Todd Whitting's third season in 2013, Houston broke through to the NCAA tournament this spring for the first time since 2008. The Cougars went 27-5 in nonconference play, building the No. 1 nonconference RPI ranking, but finished 4 1/2 games behind AAC regular-season champion Louisville, which swept a series at UH to snatch a regional hosting spot away from the Cougars. But Houston finished strong, beating the Cardinals in the AAC tournament championship game. Houston's pitching is its bread and butter; the staff ranks fourth in the nation in ERA (2.20) and second in WHIP (1.02), as pitching coach Frank Anderson has assembled a group of pitchers who excel at relentlessly attacking the strike zone. Sophomore righty Jake Lemoine (5-5, 2.35) has the best stuff on the staff, with a fastball that touches the mid-90s, a significantly improved slider and a solid changeup. Junior Aaron Garza (8-4, 2.65) has stumbled a bit since starting the year 5-0, 0.97, but he is a workhorse with a solid three-pitch mix, and if he's on his game, Houston can make noise in the postseason. Bulldogs Chase Wellbrock (4-0, 1.15, 12 SV) and Tyler Ford (8-0, 1.26, 4 SV, 64 IP) give Houston two rock-solid bullpen options who can handle extended innings, one from the right side and one from the left. The other thing Houston does at an elite level is work counts offensively; it ranks ninth in the nation with 269 walks. The team's leader in walks—and batting, home runs, RBIs and doubles—is fifth-year senior Casey Grayson (.335, 6 HR, 48 RBI, 16 2B, 46-24 BB-SO), who missed last season due to injury but has re-established himself as an offensive force this spring. Fellow upperclassmen Michael Pyeatt and Frankie Ratcliff give this team plenty of veteran presence; Ratcliff (17 steals in 21 tries) and sophomore Kyle Survance (30-for-37) are also the most aggressive basestealers on a team that likes to run to push the action. Survance (.315, 10 2B) and fellow sophomore Justin Montemayor (.304, 14 2B) can also drive the gaps, giving Houston a bit of punch.

Bryant won 45 games last year to reach its first regional, where it won a game against Arkansas. The Bulldogs returned loads of pitching from that team, with four starters who can at least reach the low 90s in senior ace Craig Schiltter (10-1, 1.95) and fellow righties Kevin McAvoy (9-1, 2.81), Vaughn Hayward (9-2, 2.41) and Kyle Wilcox (3-2, 3.09). Wilcox, a New England Collegiate League all-star last summer, has reached 97 mph at times. Schlitter commands an 88-92 fastball, decent curveball and changeup, and he sets the tone for a staff that ranks 28th in the nation in ERA (2.93) and 11th in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (7.41). The Bulldogs dominated the NEC all year, going 19-5 to win the league by five games, then went 3-0 to repeat as conference tournament champions. They're not just a pitching team; in fact, they are one of the most balanced teams in the NCAA tournament field, ranking 13th nationally in batting, 12th in scoring, 24th in doubles, ninth in slugging and eighth in stolen bases. This team hits for average and power, and also features plenty of speed. Jr. OFs Carl Anderson (.316/.390/.488, 7 HR, 40 RBI, 29 SB) and Jordan Mountford (.312/.400/.482, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 8 SB) have solid tools across the board, and Sr. OF A.J. Zarozny (.398/.464/.651, 5 HR, 7 SB) has blazing speed. Zarozny missed seven weeks after being hit by a pitch on his right hand but returned for the final month and provided a huge spark. That trio makes the offense go, but there are no easy outs in this lineup.

Southeastern Louisiana has knocked on the door to the postseason a number of times in the last decade under former coach Jay Artigues (now the school's athletic director), but it could never break through. Southeastern finished fifth in the Southland regular-season standings during coach Matt Riser's first season at the helm this spring, but the Lions got hot down the stretch, winning their last three series and going 4-0 in the conference tournament to clinch a trip to regionals for the first time since 1994. Southeastern is a particularly dangerous No. 4 seed because it has a bona fide ace in junior righty Andro Cutura (10-2, 1.72, 95-19 SO-BB in 100 IP), who followed up a strong summer in the Cape Cod League with an all-conference performance this spring. He features a power sinker that ranges from 89-94 mph, an 80-84 cutter and a quality changeup. No. 2 starter Tate Scioneaux (7-6, 3.11), who came out of the bullpen to throw 5.1 shutout innings in the Southland title game, is another dogged competitor with good life on his 88-91 fastball. The bullpen is anchored by a pair of reliable righthanders: Mason Klotz (1.54 ERA, 5 SV) and Dylan Hills (6-3, 1.89, 5 SV). Klotz can vary his arm slots, touching 91 from a high slot and working in the mid-80s from a sidearm slot, and he has an effective slider. Hills is a relentless strike-thrower whose calling card is his cutter. The lineup is built around the dangerous trio of Jameson Fisher (.394/.487/.473, 16 2B), Andrew Godbold (.348/.453/.511, 8 HR, 57 RBI) and Brett Hoffman (.321/.364/.407, 16 2B). Godbold, the Southland Conference player of the year, is a physical specimen with solid speed in addition to his power potential, but the lineup otherwise lacks thunder, as Godbold hit eight of the team's 14 homers.