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.
NCAA Baton Rouge Regional
# 4 seed Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (31-28) vs. #1 seed LSU Fighting Tigers (43-16)
Friday, June 1 - 7 p.m. CT
Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. (10,326)
LSU - No. 7 NCAA National Seed; No. 1 by Collegiate Baseball; No. 3 by Baseball America; No. 7 by USA Today/ESPN
ULM - unranked
LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates
The Baton Rouge affiliate is WDGL 98.1 FM
Pregame show starts 30 minutes prior to first pitch
www.LSUsports.net - live audio and stats
Cox Sports Television/Comcast Sports Southeast
LSU - Fr. RHP Aaron Nola (6-4, 3.93 ERA, 75.2 IP, 6 BB, 73 SO)
ULM - Jr. LHP Randy Zeigler (5-6, 3.65 ERA, 106.0 IP, 55 BB, 108 SO)
NCAA Baseball Regional Practice
May 31, 2012 - Alex Box Stadium
LSU COACH PAUL MAINIERI
On the advice he gave to the LSU players ...
"I told them that all these people are going to be filling these stands tomorrow to support you, not to put pressure on you. You don't have to try any harder now than you have all year. Just go out and have fun, relax, play the game and let it rip. If you make a mistake, let it be a full speed mistake. Don't play and be afraid to lose, let's go out there, just let it rip, have fun and enjoy this experience."
On the University of Louisiana at Monroe Warhawks ...
"I have the greatest level of respect you could imagine for ULM. 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. Hopefully, we'll score more runs than they do. That doesn't diminish the level of respect I have for (Coach Schexnaider) and for their program. 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."
On the postseason ...
"This is a fun time for me. I know what the expectations are here at LSU, and they're through the roof. Omaha or bust. I enjoy the postseason. I feel very blessed to be the coach at LSU. It's a grind. 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."
On freshman pitcher Aaron Nola ...
"There are a lot of things that I see in players that make me want to believe in them and believe that they can rise to the occasion when the pressure is the greatest. Obviously, they have to have the skills and the talent to do it, but there's also something special, an extra ingredient about certain players that I see. Those are the ones I like to hitch my wagon to. It's all a matter of picking the kids that can go out there and do it for our team. That's why we're giving the ball to Aaron Nola tomorrow night. I believe in that kid so much. 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."
OUTFIELDER RAPH RHYMES
On the team's preparation...
"We are excited right now. We got a good workout in today. I think everybody is just kind of anxious. It's kind of like opening night again. Tomorrow starts a new season. I think we are ready to get it going. Today, we will relax and think about what we need to do and get ready for tomorrow."
"They are going to come in here hungry. They are going to come in here and play hard. It's definitely going to be a battle. I know a bunch of guys on their team, and I know they're excited. Alex Box Stadium is going to be packed. It should be a good game."
On being from Monroe and playing ULM...
"I try not to put any more added pressure on myself. It's just another game. It's fun to be playing ULM since I'm from Monroe, but I don't put any more pressure on it. I just like to go out there and play."
On LSU's approach to postseason play....
"We just go out there and have fun. That's what it's going to come down to. Just because it is the postseason, we can't treat it like it is a postseason game. We have to treat it like it's just another SEC weekend series like we have all year. We need to go out there, compete and have a good time. If we do that, I do believe that we will come out on top."
On being considered as one of the top players in the country...
"It's pretty crazy. To be considered as one of the top players is a huge honor. I never dreamed of it. It's something that I will always remember."
INF/OF MASON KATZ
On Coach Mainieri ...
When you do something wrong, Coach Paul Mainieri does not let you get away with it. He makes you learn. In the outfield, if I make a mistake, the next day we will go out on the field and make sure I won't make that mistake again. This is the best place to play for guys who want to work hard. Coach will not let you make a mistake more than once.
On how LSU plans to play ...
"We're going to just let it rip. We aren't going to try and do something different than we have all year. In big games, we have gone out there and let it rip. That's just our mentality. We play loose and have fun, but we are still aggressive. We are going to stick with that. We are going to go out there tomorrow, swing big and hopefully come out on top."
On the importance of getting runs early in the game ...
"I think that is important for every pitcher. It's easy for a pitcher to gain a little confidence, especially if you have an early lead. Aaron Nola, being a freshman, is starting his first post-season game. The main thing for us is keeping our defense up. We love playing behind Aaron, he pounds the (strike zone). With Kevin Gausman you can get out there for 50 pitches and nothing happens. You have six strikeouts and you're just sitting there watching. I wouldn't say it's boring because I love when he strikes people out, but we have to be on our toes at all times with Aaron. Like I said, he pounds the strike zone."
On the team's confidence in the LSU relief pitchers...
"Our bullpen this year is proven. Chris Cotton has been an ace all year. Brent Bonvillain has been great. Joey (Bourgeois) has done great. Nick Goody has had a great year as a closer. When we get to our bullpen, I wouldn't say it is automatic, but I don't really ever have doubts. I love it. We have a lot of different guys with different pitching mentalities, but they all get the job done."
"I know a few guys on the team and I have talked to them. They are all super excited to come down here. They are going to come out here swinging and they aren't going to be scared. We are going to go out there and play 100 percent."
PITCHER AARON NOLA
On Starting Friday Night...
"A couple years ago, I experienced the Regional as a fan. It gets pretty loud in Alex Box Stadium. It's amazing. I get to finally experience it from a player's view and I'm pumped about it."
On Playing at Home...
"It's definitely an advantage to host Regionals here. We are going to have a lot of support from our fans. All of these other teams are not going to come in here expecting us to win. They aren't going to lie down for us. We need to go out there and get the job done."