POSTED: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 5:00am
UPDATED: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 5:04am
BATON ROUGE, LA — Top-ranked LSU (43-16) opens NCAA Baton Rouge Regional action at 7 p.m. CT Friday when the Tigers meet Louisiana-Monroe in Alex Box Stadium.
The LSU-ULM game will be carried by the affiliates of the LSU Sports Radio Network, with Baton Rouge affiliate WDGL 98.1 FM serving as the flagship station. Live audio and stats of the games may be accessed in the Geaux Zone at www.LSUsports.net.
Friday’s game will be televised on Cox Sports Television and Comcast Sports Southeast.
LSU has the highest all-time NCAA Tournament winning percentage (123-47, .724), and the Tigers are appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the 25th time. LSU has a 77-19 mark in regional games, an 11-8 record in super regional games and a 35-20 mark in the College World Series. The Tigers have won 18 regional titles, five super regional titles and six College World Series championships (1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2009).
LSU claimed the 2012 SEC championship by winning two of three games at South Carolina May 18-19. The conference crown was the second in the past four seasons under coach Paul Mainieri. LSU also claimed the 2012 SEC Western Division title, the Tigers’ third division crown in the past five seasons under Mainieri.
Mainieri, who directed LSU to the 2009 national championship, said his club is looking forward to the start of NCAA postseason play.
“This is a fun time for us,” Mainieri said. “I know what the expectations are here at LSU, and they’re through the roof. Omaha or bust. When you get to the postseason, I think it’s fun. It’s a tremendous reward for these kids. I don’t think that people truly understand the time commitment and sacrifices that these kids make on a daily basis.”
Mainieri said that freshman right-hander Aaron Nola (6-4, 3.93 ERA) will start Friday’s game on the mound for LSU.
I believe in Aaron so much,” Mainieri said. “He’s a player that has that great arm, he’s a great athlete and he has the ability to throw strikes. There’s something different about him that makes him a winner. I know that he will emerge in the biggest games. I’ve never looked at Aaron as if he was a freshman. He’s been around this field for so many years watching his brother (shortstop Austin Nola), he’s been in the stands and he’s been in Omaha. It’s as though he’s not truly a freshman. He knows what it takes here, because he’s seen it.”
UL-Monroe coach Jeff Schexnaider will counter on Friday night with junior left-hander Randy Zeigler (5-6, 3.65 ERA).
LSU junior leftfielder Raph Rhymes, the 2012 SEC Player of the Year and a first-team all-American, leads the nation in batting average, hitting .459 (96-for-209) with 11 doubles, three homers and 50 RBI. Rhymes is hitting .592 (42-for-71) this season with runners in scoring position, and he batted .458 in SEC regular-season games. Rhymes is one of 30 semifinalists for the 2012 Golden Spikes Award.
Junior RF/1B Mason Katz is a second-team all-SEC selection for the second straight season. Katz, batting .335 on the year, is LSU’s leader in home runs (11), doubles (15) and runs scored (61). Katz completed the regular season in the Top 10 of six different SEC offensive categories. Katz was named to the SEC All-Tournament Team last week after hitting .357 (5-for-14) in three games with two RBI and three runs scored.
UL-Monroe, champion of the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Tournament, is batting .272 as a team with 33 homers and 76 stolen bases in 100 attempts. The Warhawks are led at the plate by shortstop Jeremy Sy, the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, who is hitting .329 with 14 doubles, six triples, four homers and 35 RBI.
“I have the greatest level of respect you could imagine for ULM,” Mainieri said. “First of all their coach, Jeff Schexnaider is a great coach. The Sun Belt Conference year in and year out is such a tough league, and when you’re conference champions, that’s something to be proud of. We have a job to do tomorrow night, and that is to go out there and play a great baseball game. Their players play the game the right way. I’m very impressed with their style of play and how much passion their kids play with.”
LSU has a 38-8 all-time mark against Louisiana-Monroe; Friday’s game will mark the first meeting between the teams since March 9, 2010 when the Tigers posted an 18-7 win over the Warhawks in Alex Box Stadium. LSU is 3-0 against ULM in NCAA regional games -- the Tigers defeated the Warhawks, 11-4, in the opening round of the 1999 Baton Rouge Regional, and LSU defeated ULM in the second round (21-0) and in the championship round (5-3) of the 2000 Baton Rouge Regional.