On Monday, the LSU baseball players, coaches and staff gathered to learn which of the 16 regional host sites they’d be traveling to. The NCAA announced the Tigers will travel to the Hattiesburg Regional this weekend hosted by the University of Southern Mississippi.
LSU is the No. 2 seed in the regional tournament and will play third-seeded Kennesaw State on Friday in a first-round matchup at 6 p.m. CT. Top-seeded Southern Miss will face No. 4 seed Army at 1 p.m. CT on Friday.
The Purple and Gold are looking to bounce back from dropping two straight games in the SEC tournament to Tennessee and Kentucky. However, LSU’s Head Coach Jay Johnson has been focused on putting the team in the best position to win in the NCAA tournament since he arrived at LSU earlier this year.
One of the ways Jay Johnson has prepared for the NCAA tournament is resting two of LSU’s best batters in sophomores Jacob Berry and Cade Doughty. Berry and Doughty did not play in the SEC tournament due to injuries, but Johnson has said the goal was to have them both healthy for the NCAA tournament.
“They’re two Top 50 draft picks. (The previous LSU staff) recruited Cade here, and I’m glad that they did, he’s a great player. We brought Jacob here, and he’s a great player. I feel that we’re a better team when we have those two guys back in the lineup,” said Johnson.
The Tigers are no strangers to having to play tough competition on the road and ended the regular season by winning their last two conference road series versus Alabama and Vanderbilt. LSU’s “road dogs” catchphrase will once again be tested against their first opponent in Kennesaw State.
The Kennesaw State Owls received the region’s No. 3 seed after defeating the Atlantic Sun conference No. 1 seed, Liberty, in the conference tournament title game last Saturday.
“Kennesaw State, just a quick glance once I saw the opponent is a very offensive team, played a lot of teams in the SEC in the midweek,” Johnson said. “It’s a good program and then Southern Miss had a great year. To win a league that has four NCAA tournament teams is a great accomplishment.”
The No. 11 national seed and regional host Southern Miss won the Conference USA regular-season title by three games, but the Golden Eagles were eliminated in the conference tournament semifinal at home by UTSA. Based on strength of schedules, LSU clearly has the upper hand in the region. However, Southern Miss is hosting for a reason and has defeated SEC opponents such as Ole Miss, Alabama and Mississippi State. LSU knows this regional tournament will not be a walk in the park.
“It’s a great regional field in Hattiesburg and we’re excited to be a part of it. My teams (at Arizona) have gotten to Omaha entirely from the road, and they have gotten to Omaha from our home stadium, so I know it can be done both ways. I’m just really excited for this team, to be going to the NCAA Tournament, to have a 38-win regular season while going through a lot of adversity. To do all of that and to play the road schedule that we did, I think it’s a great accomplishment, and it should give our team a lot of confidence going forward. Right now, all that matters is going forward,” said Johnson.
The winner of the Hattiesburg Regional will square off against the winner of the Coral Gables Regional, consisting of Miami, Arizona, Ole Miss and Canisius, in the June 10-13 best-of-three NCAA Super Regional. The eight-team College World Series will take place from June 17-27 in Omaha, Nebraska.
“It’s not a given, you have to earn your way into that and we’ll be ready to go. Something I’ve learned is that there are only 64 teams left so you’re playing a good team in round one, all the way through to Omaha,” Johnson said.