This is part 2 of our previews/predictions of NCAA Baseball Super Regionals involving SEC teams.
By Don Yates
LSU at Tennessee (Saturday-Monday Series)
The red hot Tennessee Vols host longtime SEC baseball power LSU in Knoxville. Early in the conference slate, the Vols swept a 3-game series from the Tigers in Knoxville by a combined score of 15-11. A lot has changed since March 28. The Tigers have rallied around their very respected head coach, Paul Mainieri, who announced in late May that he was retiring from coaching. After a dismal early-season performance, the Tigers have now won 13 of their last 20 games. Most recently Tigers marched into hostile Pac-12 territory and won the Eugene Regional by knocking off the Oregon Ducks on Monday.
As a team, the LSU Tigers are batting .274, 8th best in the SEC and 116th (286 teams) nationally. Utility player Dylan Crews and first baseman Tre’ Morgan co-lead the Tigers in batting (.361). Gavin Dugas has 19 homers and Crews has garnered 16. LSU is another team that can produce walks, ranking 49th nationally with 346 so far this season.
The LSU pitching staff has a combined 4.40 ERA. Righty Landon Marceaux (2.44 ERA) is the ace of the staff. He has 112 strikeouts and just 25 walks. RHP A.J. Labas, with a 5.42 ERA has seen work in 83 innings. He has 74 strikeouts and 16 walks. Other key pitchers are Aaron George (2.79 ERA), Garrett Ewards (2.95 ERA), and RHP Ma’Khail Hilliard (4.56 ERA).
LSU has a .974 fielding rate which is 60th best in the nation.
Under head coach Tony Vitello Tennessee has steadily gotten better over the past four seasons. Most recently the Vols won the Knoxville Regional with a 3-1 win over Liberty on Sunday.
Tennessee batting has been strong in 2021 ranking 5th in the SEC with a .281 team ERA. A big reason for that success is infielder Liam Spence who has a .346 batting average. Smith is also 5th nationally in bases on balls with 52 of those contribute heavily to his .483 on-base percentage. First baseman Luc Lipcius (.251 BA) is the Vol’s biggest home run threat with 15. Other key hitters are Jake Rucker (.383 BA, 7 HR), Drew Gilbert (.281, 9 HR), Max Ferguson (.264 BA, 12 HR) and Jordan Beck (.259 BA, 14 HR).
Tennessee’s pitching staff boasts the 7th best ERA (3.42) in the nation. RHP Chad Dallas (4.27 ERA) is considered the ace of the Vol staff with 106 strikeouts and just 19 walks. Righty Sean Hunley (3.04 ERA) and Blake Tidwell (3.25 ERA) are two other key Vol arms. Hunley has 71 strikeouts and just 11 walks. Tidwell, a freshman, is also sharp with 80 strikeouts and 32 walks.
Tennessee has a .976 fielding percentage which is 44th best nationally.
You’ll probably call me crazy because the Vols already that sweep over Tennessee but I think this series is a tossup. LSU has gotten better towards the end of the season. Tennessee likely has a been there done that, so what, attitude towards the Tigers. They might be a little flat which could equalize some things. However, Lindsey Nelson Stadium has been pretty wild this season. Vandy and Arkansas are the only two to win series there this season. It could go either way.
Notre Dame at Mississippi State (Saturday-Monday Series)
This is one of the more intriguing series of all the Super Regionals. The usual football-focused Irish stormed through their regular season and dominated the ACC with 25 conference wins. They scored an incredible 50 runs combined in three games to win their regional. They’ll travel to Starkville and hit a hornet’s nest. Southerners love beating Notre Dame in football and they’ll be rocking for a series win over the Irish. It might be a tough nut to crack though. The Irish, like the Bulldogs, are very talented.
Notre Dame as a team has a healthy .286 batting average. Infielder Niko Kavadas (.309 BA) is the Irish’s most dangerous batter. He is currently ranked 3rd nationally in home runs with 21 and 1st nationally in home runs per game with (0.48). He’s also 4th nationally in bases on balls with 47 of those. Other key batters for Notre Dame include INF/RHP Jack Brannigan (.292 BA, 5 HR), infielder Carter Putz (.307 BA, 6 HR) and Spencer Myers (.292, 1 HR).
The Irish pitching staff has a team ERA of 3.80. LHP John Michael Bertrand (2.98 ERA) leads the team in strikeouts with 63 and has 20 walks. Other key pitchers for the Irish include righty Tanner Kohlhepp (2.83 ERA) with 61 strikeouts and 21 walks, Alex Rao (2.60 ERA) 35 strikeouts, 21 walks. Aiden Tyrell (2.91 ERA) 37 strikeouts, 16 walks.
The Irish are No. 1 in the nation in fielding with a .984 percentage of successful defensive plays.
Mississippi State locked up a Super Regional bid with a 6-5 win over Campbell on Monday in Starkville. With 16 NCAA Super Regionals in its history, State is probably the most well-known college baseball program that never has been able to win a College World Series.
The Bulldogs have a team batting average of .282. Tanner Allen leads the SEC in batting average at .395 while Logan Tanner (.286 BA) leads the team in home runs with 12. Other key hitters for the Bulldogs include Rowdy Jordan (.295 BA, 9 HR), Scott Dubrule (.284 BA, 28 BB), and Kamren James (.269 BA, 11 HR).
Mississippi State has a 3.87 team ERA. Will Bednar (3.17 ERA, 7-1) and Christian MacLeod (3.81 ERA, 6-4) are the top two starters for the Bulldogs. Bednar has 109 strikeouts and 18 walks while MacLeod has 106 strikeouts and 27 walks. Other key pitchers for the Bulldogs include Landon Sims (1.45 ERA), Houston Harding (2.64 ERA), Stone Simmons (3.57 ERA).
Mississippi State has a .973 fielding percentage which is 81st best in the nation.
This series is hard to pick. Notre Dame’s been really good. The question is, “How good is the ACC?.” Normally the ACC is the second-best conference in Division I after the SEC. Other than Notre Dame, only NC State and Virginia made it to a Super Regional.
This one could be another tossup. I think I’ll go with Mississippi State as my favorite. Playing in Starkville gives them the edge.