The Baton Rouge Super Regional is intriguing for several reasons, but none more than the intriguing pitching matchups between the two clubs.
For the Sooners, junior right-handed pitcher Jonathan Gray and left-hander Dillon Overton lead the charge. Gray could very well be the top pick in the MLB draft Thursday night, while Overton has good pitchability and overall, a very good repertoire. Meanwhile, senior left-handed pitcher Jake Fisher has evolved as a solid starter for the Sooners, shining in last weekend's Blacksburg Regional.
But first things first, OU's success on the mound begins with Gray. Gray is a stocky, tough and durable pitcher for the Sooners. Gray is consistently in the mid-to-upper 90s with his fastball, still touching 97-98 in the eighth inning when we saw him earlier this season. Meanwhile, he has a nasty mid-80s slider, and also utilizes a changeup at times. Gray surprisingly has a tendency to pitch backwards at times, so keep an eye on that this weekend.
Overton has a fastball that touches 90, but overall, the big thing about him is that he's able to command multiple pitches for strikes. Overton, though on the skinny side, has very good numbers this season with a 2.91 ERA in 86 2/3 innings of work. He also has struck out 76, walked 22 and teams are hitting him at just a .253 clip.
Then there's Fisher. Fisher has appeared in 20 games this season, starting six, and has a 2.53 ERA in 53 1/3 innings of work, along with 50 strikeouts and 14 walks, while teams are hitting him at at .282 clip.
While Oklahoma is more about getting off to a good start with Gray and Overton leading the charge, the Tigers have the more complete weekend rotation with right-handed pitchers Aaron Nola and Ryan Eades, and left-hander Cody Glenn leading the way.
Nola is the consummate professional on the mound for the Tigers. He's only a sophomore, so he's not drat-eligible at this point. However, like Gray this year, Nola likely will be one of the top draft picks next summer with a fastball in the low-90s and a true four-pitch mix, while he has outstanding pitchability with a cool and collective demeanor.
Eades tends to be hot and cold for the Tigers. Eades had a tough performance last weekend against Jackson State, but before that, had shined in a couple of starts. Eades can get his fastball up to 93-94 and has a 2.81 ERA in 96 innings, along with 77 strikeouts and 30 walks, and a .269 opponent team batting average.
Then there's Glenn. Glenn missed last weekend's Baton Rouge Regional because of a suspension. However, the LSU team voted to reinstate him and he's back in the rotation this weekend against the Sooners.
Glenn doesn't have blow-away stuff like Nola and Eades possesses at times, but he's very good at keeping the ball low in the zone, and it's hard to barrel up the ball against him. Glenn has started 14 games this season and has a 2.41 ERA in 82 innings. He also has struck out 37, walked 16, and teams are hitting him at a .269 clip.
The Sooners have a few arms they like to rely on out of the bullpen, but this is yet another area where the Tigers have an advantage with many premium options, including that of left-handed closer Chris Cotton.
Cotton put together an impressive 2012 campaign for Paul Mainieri's Tigers, but has taken a huge step forward in terms of being dominant each time out. Cotton has evolved into one of college baseball's elite closers with 16 saves in 35 appearances, along with a 1.29 ERA in 42 innings and a .164 opposing batting average.
Meanwhile, Joey Bourgeois has a 2.25 ERA in 32 innings of work, Nate Fury has a 2.95 ERA in 18 1/3 innings, Will LaMarche has a 3.65 ERA in 24 2/3 innings, and Nick Rumbelow is a talented right-handed pitcher the Tigers like to rely on often. Rumbelow has decent velocity on his fastball, 90-plus to be exact, while he has a nasty curveball as well.
Also keep an eye on Brent Bonvillain this weekend. Bonvillian started in place of the suspended Glenn last weekend and didn't disappoint against Louisiana-Lafayette, allowing just a run on three hits in 5 1/3 innings of work.
For the Sooners, there are several options on the table this weekend in the bullpen. Freshman left-handed pitcher Jacob Evans is having quite the freshman campaign. He has recorded nine saves in 29 appearances and has a 1.73 ERA in 52 innings, with teams hitting .198 against him. Evans isn't a blow-away type of arm, but he has a nice sweeping curveball.
Evans certainly isn't alone. Ralph Garza Jr. has proven to be a bulldog-like arm out of the bullpen with a 2.79 ERA in 59 innings, while Kyle Hayes and Kindle Ladd both rose to the occasion last weekend at Virginia Tech.
Hayes has a 3.14 ERA in 28 2/3 innings, with teams hitting him at a .255 clip, while Ladd has a 3.28 ERA in 24 2/3 innings, with teams hitting him at a .300 clip.
Oklahoma has a couple of intriguing bats to watch this weekend, but this is where LSU has the most distinct advantage.
In many cases, strictly looking at batting average doesn't tell the entire tale. However, this isn't one of those cases, as LSU's .307 batting average versus Oklahoma's .286 average paints an accurate pitcher.
LSU has one of the nation's elite freshmen in shortstop Alex Bregman leading the charge. Bregman, in addition to being a smooth defender, has a quick bat with very good pop, and such a good eye at the plate. He's hitting .385 with 17 doubles, seven triples, six homers and 52 RBIs, while he's also 15-for-16 in stolen bases.
Hard-hitting first baseman Mason Katz is a big-time power threat with 15 homers and 68 RBIs, while outfielder Raph Rhymes is hitting .340 with four homers and 45 RBIs and third baseman Christian Ibarra has a compact frame with pop, along with a .325 average, six homers and 39 RBIs.
The Tigers have plenty of others to watch. Sean McMullen tweaked his hamstring last weekend in the Baton Rouge Regional, but should be ready to go against the Sooners. He's hitting .331 with two homers and 30 RBIs, while freshman speedster Mark Laird is hitting .287, second baseman JaCoby Jones is vastly improved as a hitter over the course of the season with a .283 average, and catcher Ty Ross has the ability to have huge games at the plate despite only hitting .211 with three homers and 29 RBIs.
Andrew Stevenson is another guy to watch. Though Stevenson only is hitting .183 on the season, he's the type of hitter who's incredibly tough to slow down if he's able to get on base with elite speed.
For the Sooners, imposing first baseman Matt Oberste is the main slugger to watch. Oberste went through a little lull when we saw him earlier this season, but he's back on track and enters the weekend hitting .376 with good power with 11 homers and 60 RBIs.
Outfielder Max White is athletic with a .313 average, three homers and 32 RBIs, while young outfielder Craig Aikin is a spark plug who can really get the Sooners going both at the plate and on the base-paths, sitting 16-for-22 in stolen bases entering the series.
Hector Lorenzana (.279/2/42) and Jack Mayfield (.260/7/35) are others who have the ability to have a huge weekend.
LSU is considered a national title contender for several reasons, but smooth defense is a chief reason as the postseason progresses.
The Tigers simply don't have a weakness in the field. Catcher Ty Ross might be lacking a bit from an offensive standpoint, but he's got a huge frame and is an elite defensive catcher with a good arm. Meanwhile, third baseman Christian Ibarra and shortstop Alex Bregman each have good instincts and arms, while second baseman JaCoby Jones and first baseman Mason Katz are very consistent, with Jones carrying a .980 fielding percentage into the weekend.
The Tigers also are impressive in the outfield. Raph Rhymes isn't the most athletic guy in the outfield, but has good instincts and makes few mistakes, while Andrew Stevenson and Mark Laird both are speedsters who cover lots of ground out there. Stevenson has shined the past two weekends in the NCAA Regional and SEC tournament, making several acrobatic plays to thwart potential rallies.
The Sooners aren't as crisp as the Tigers defensively, but it's a solid group. The right side of the infield is in good shape with Matt Oberste and Hector Lorenzana leading the charge, while Jack Mayfield is athletic and third baseman Garrett Carey has just been OK with 14 errors on the season.
In the outfield, both Max White and Craig Aikin are good athletes who have the ability to cover lots of ground, while catcher Anthony Hermelyn has done a solid job for the most part, while Taylor Alspaugh mans the other outfield position despite appearing in just 19 games so far this season.
Both teams are solid defensively, but the Tigers get the edge here, too.