Tennessee baseball is headed to Omaha for the second time in three years, and the field is set. The game will be a rematch of a regular season series that LSU took from the Vols.
The two SEC foes face off in the College World Series on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The primetime matchup will surely be a great one.
Here’s a look at what the Tigers bring.
If you have not paid any attention to college baseball this season, you probably don’t know who Skenes is. If you plan on watching Saturday, you will quickly find out who he is.
The LSU ace is well on pace to break Ben McDonald’s long-standing strikeout record. He is just 15 strikeouts short of the mighty 202 McDonald threw in 1989.
The 6-foot-6, 247-pound righty sits in the upper 90’s, running pitches up to triple digits oftentimes. He averaged a whopping 15.8 strikeouts per nine innings this year. Skenes also boasts an ERA of 1.77 this season, shutting down SEC offenses.
Skenes is projected to be a top two draft pick and is in the running for the Golden Spikes Award.
The rest of the staff
Behind Skenes, there is a big drop-off in pitching talent for the Tigers. Several injuries early in the season hindered what was expected to be the No. 1 staff in baseball.
While in one game it may not matter, Tennessee features a much deeper pitching staff that will bode well if the two teams meet again. LSU only has one other bonafide starter in Ty Floyd. Floyd sits at an ERA of 4.50.
As for the bullpen, it seems they have found their stride. Riley Cooper and Blake Money have both been consistent choices to be first out of the pen for LSU. They also both have an ERA above five but don’t take that at face value. The bullpen has been hot in the postseason
The Tigers have one of the best, if not the best offense in college baseball. For example, they hit six home runs to beat Kentucky in game one of the Baton Rouge Super Regional.
Dylan Crews, who is in the running for the Golden Spikes Award along with Skenes, leads the Tigers with a .434 average. The center fielder will easily go top-five in the draft, and he has been one of the best players in baseball since his freshman year.
Behind him his Tommy “Tanks” White. The power hitter leads LSU with 97 RBIs while batting .377. On top of Crews and White, the Tigers have four other hitters currently batting over .300.
Pitching will be crucial for Tennessee in the matchup because LSU can swing it.
Head Coach Jay Johnson
LSU’s head coach is not foreign to Omaha, and has taken LSU to the College World Series in just his second year at the helm.
Previously, Johnson coached at Arizona. He took the Wildcats to Omaha in 2016 and 2021, finishing runner up in 2016. He was hired at LSU in 2022.
Like Tennessee in 2021, the Wildcats went 0-2. Nevertheless, don’t expect either coach to be shell shocked by the environment.
What Johnson said about Tennessee
Johnson met with LSU media following the Tigers’ sweep of Kentucky in the Baton Rouge Super Regional. Johnson was not caught off guard by the matchup with Tennessee.
“Not a surprise at all,” Johnson told LSU media. “When you look at the bracket when it comes out, you look at the team in front of you, and then you kind of look at what that first game (in Omaha) might be and that’s basically who I anticipated we would play. Great team. Great talent. It should be a great night for college baseball.”
Johnson also noted the similarities between his squad and Tennessee. Both teams have gone through changed on the mound and in the lineup before really gaining some momentum.
“They’ve made some switches to how they lined up their pitching, obviously, and they have a great staff,” Johnson said. “They’re going to be able to save runs because they have a good staff. Offensively, a lot of their main guys are still playing and are playing better and playing more confidently. Much like us, they had a very tough stretch to begin SEC play. They realigned some things with how they were pitching and now they’re playing well but that’s not a surprise.”