Two wins. That's all LSU needs to return to Omaha, Nebraska, and the College World Series for the first time in six years. The Tigers, of course, face Kentucky in the best-of-three Baton Rouge super regional, which begins at 2 p.m. Saturday in Alex Box Stadium.
LSU has seen Kentucky before this season, having hosted the Wildcats in a weekend series at the Box from April 13-15, but there have been changes to both teams since.
Kentucky is an older team, built up by the transfer portal — but instead of all-stars from big programs, the Wildcats loaded up on experienced players from mostly mid-major programs. Five members of its starting lineup are transfers, and four of them are seniors. Four of its right-handers, including starters Zach Hise (Missouri) and Darren Williams (Eastern Kentucky), are also transfers, while two left-handers are also transfers — including starter Tyler Bosma (Miami-Ohio).
While the Wildcats aren’t packed with talent, they play a small-ball game that is uncharacteristic of most Southeastern Conference teams, and they’ve caused a lot of problems for opponents as a result.
What’s the No. 1 thing LSU must do to beat Kentucky this weekend and reach the College World Series? Our writers give their opinions here:
Leah Vann: Stay true to identity
LSU won its series opener against Kentucky, lost the middle game and won the finale. In the April 14 loss, LSU’s defense committed three errors. The Wildcats are a small-ball team — only Hunter Gilliam has double-digit home runs — but they are hard to get out. They’re last in the conference in grounding into double plays. By contrast, the Tigers grounded into three double plays in that April loss to the Wildcats. So if LSU plays clean defense and sticks to its approach at the plate and slug out some home runs, the Tigers should be able to win.
Wilson Alexander: Control the base paths
This Kentucky lineup does not hit for power. The Wildcats rank last in the Southeastern Conference with 51 homers, but they know how to manufacture runs. Kentucky has a .418 on-base percentage — second-highest in the SEC behind LSU — and leads the league with 91 stolen bases on 120 attempts, as well as 55 sacrifice bunts. UK wants to put pressure on the infield. The Tigers need to play good defense and not issue free passes.
Scott Rabalais: Watch the weather
For the 1948 Boston Braves, it was Spahn and Sain and pray for rain. For the LSU Tigers, it’s Skenes and pray for no rain. LSU’s worst-case scenario: Paul Skenes pitches several innings Saturday, but then the game is halted by weather. If the forecast means pitching Skenes in Game 2 on Sunday, so be it. LSU must get the most out of its ace and win his start. If they do, the Tigers are halfway to Omaha.