By HUNT PALMER
BBI Senior Writer
Aaron Nola isn’t buying into the hype.
When Southeastern Conference play opens up tonight all eyes will be on Nashville as Nola duels with Vanderbilt ace Tyler Beede, another hard-throwing right hander who is a projected as an early first round pick in the Major League Baseball Draft this summer.
As predictably efficient and dominating as the Tiger is ace on the mound, he’s perhaps even steadier in his approach to games, even the ones perceived bigger than others.
"It’s kind of me versus their lineup,” Nola said. "It’s easy for me to keep my mind on that. I don’t play for myself. I play for my team. I just go do my job, and that’s all I can do.”
Thus far Nola has plowed through opposing lineups for 27 scoreless innings, striking out 36 and yielding just 11 hits. Dating back to last season’s SEC Tournament, Nola has fired 53 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.
And when Nola shrugs off the spotlight and insists it won’t impact his performance, it’s easy to believe the junior. In last season’s Super Regional, Nola stared down Oklahoma fireballer Jonathan Gray and spun nine shutout frames to inch the Tigers closer to Omaha.
"This might be another matchup like that,” Nola said. "Beede is an outstanding pitcher. He’s going to be one of the top guys in the draft this year. It’s about staying within myself and doing what I can do.”
Beede, a first round selection following his high school career, spurned big money to attend Vanderbilt. Three years later he’s in position to cash in again. Through four starts the tall right hander is 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA. He’s punched out 33 in 25 innings and walked just five.
While hitters flail away at mid 90s fastball from the two heralded hurlers Friday night, radar guns will light up by the dozens behind home plate at Vanderbilt’s Hawkins Field.
It’s estimated that nearly 60 Major League personnel will be on hand to observe two of the country’s best.
"There will probably be at least 10 General Managers there,” said LSU head coach Paul Mainieri. "If they’re smart they’ll be there. Two of those kids will be picked in the Top 10 picks, and how often do you get to see that type of matchup?”
After a season where these two programs combined to win a nearly unfathomable 49 of 59 SEC games, there’s a mutual understanding that the first of 30 games carries the same amount of weight as the final 29.
These three on paper look about as evenly matched as possible.
All six weekend starters carry with them an ERA of 1.50 or less entering the weekend, and the two bullpens have been brilliant.
Only two of the Commodores’ eight bullpen arms have allowed a run this season, and six of the eight strike out at least a batter per inning.
"I sat down and I looked at that today, and I looked at one of the pitchers, and I said, "Man, this guy strikes out a batter an inning and the opposing team hits .100 and something against him,’” Mainieri started. "And then you look at the next guy, and it’s the same thing. And then you go to another guy and it’s the same thing.
"And then I started looking at our staff, and Tim Corbin, the Vanderbilt head coach, has got to be thinking, ‘Man, who’s this Alden Cartwright guy? Who’s this Henri Faucheux guy? Who’s Parker Bugg? Who’s Joe Broussard?’ You start looking at the opposing team and they look larger than life.”
The similarities pour over to the lineups where Vanderbilt hits .289 as a team and the Tigers boast a .312 season batting average. Where LSU holds a slim advantage in that category, the Commodores create some offense of their own on the bases where every starter has stolen at least one base.
With Nola on the mound, Vanderbilt figures to test the new LSU catchers. Saturday and Sunday LSU counters that by throwing lefties Kyle Bouman and Jared Poche, so the running game may not be as viable an option for the Commodores.
Last season LSU opened the SEC regular season on the road at Mississippi State. After a dramatic comeback win on Friday night, the Tigers throttled the Bulldogs Saturday to win the series before being beaten on Sunday. The series win propelled LSU to the best conference season in school history.
Conventional thought suggests this weekend presents the same opportunity.
"SEC is why you come to LSU,” said sophomore shortstop Alex Bregman. "It’s the best baseball in the country. Last year going in to Mississippi State last year I was a little nervous because it was my first time playing in the SEC, but I think it’s a fun atmosphere, and I can’t wait to get over there.”
By LUKE JOHNSON
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
WHO’S HOT – Sophomore shortstop Alex Bregman
Bregman has a 10-game hitting streak going, and is hitting .461 (12-for-26) with a home run, eight RBI and three stolen bases in his last seven games. Bregman has reached base in each of LSU’s 18 games this season. Additionally, Bregman has apparently found a cure for what ailed in the field him earlier in the season, fielding at a .978 clip since his two-error game against Texas Southern.
WHO’S NOT – Sophomore catcher Chris Chinea
Chinea just can’t quite seem to turn it around at the plate. While he’s done more lately (4-for-12 in his last seven games), he’s still hitting below the Mendoza line at the plate. His main problem has been that he’s hitting the ball in the air too much. Chinea has been more than adequate defensively this season, but he needs to turn it around with the bat to continue to stay in the lineup. He’ll get starts Friday and Sunday at catcher.
PLAYER TO WATCH - Vanderbilt
Beede gets a lot of the attention on the Vanderbilt staff, and deservedly so, but sophomore right-hander Tyler Ferguson has been outstanding out of the Sunday rotation spot this season. Ferguson is big (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) and combines an electric fastball (up to 96 mph) with developing secondary pitches. There aren’t many teams out there that can trot a kid to the mound on Sunday with his kind of stuff.
KNOW THE OPPONENT
Vanderbilt isn’t quite hitting the ball like it did last year, when it led the SEC with a .313 team batting average. The Commodores are hitting .289 as a team this season, with only four regulars batting better than .300. That doesn’t mean they won’t be active on the base paths, though. The Commodores have attempted 40 stolen bases this season, converting on 25 of them. Dansby Swanson (7-for-10) and Xavier Turner (6-for-10) are the top threats, though as Hunt alluded to, LSU’s left-handers might be able to limit the run game a bit.
- LSU: Jr. RHP Aaron Nola (4-0, 0.00 ERA, 27 IP, 36 K, 2 BB)
- Vanderbilt: Jr. RHP Tyler Beede (4-0, 1.08 ERA, 25 IP, 33 K, 5 BB)
- LSU: Jr. LHP Kyle Bouman (3-0, 1.46 ERA, 24.2 IP, 13 K, 1 BB)
- Vanderbilt: Jr. LHP Jared Miller (4-0, 0.36 ERA, 24.2 IP, 22 K, 6 BB)
- LSU: Fr. LHP Jared Poché (4-0, 0.90 ERA, 20 IP, 15 K, 2 BB)
- Vanderbilt: So. RHP Tyler Ferguson (3-0, 1.50 ERA, 24 IP, 22 K, 6 BB)
GAME TIME/PLACE (All times Central)
FRIDAY: No. 8 LSU vs. No. 7 Vanderbilt, Hawkins Field, 6:30 p.m.
SATURDAY: No. 8 LSU vs. No. 7 Vanderbilt, Hawkins Field, 2:15 p.m.
- TV: Fox Sports Net
- Radio: 98.1 FM (Depending on how far LSU advances in SEC Tournament)
SUNDAY: No. 8 LSU vs. No. 7 Vanderbilt, Hawkins Field, 1 p.m.
- TV: N/A
- Radio: 98.1 FM (Depending on how far LSU advances in the SEC Tournament)