Hokies' Baseball Team Takes on #2 LSU In Tournament This Weekend

USA TODAY Sports

Tech is 1-1 on the year so far. This weekend will be a true test as the Hokies must play second ranked LSU, Toledo, and Texas Southern at a tournament in Baton Rouge this weekend.

This Friday, the Hokies are heading down to the bayou for a tournament in Baton Rouge, hosted by LSU. The tournament runs from February 21st through Sunday the 23rd. Four teams will be featured this weekend: Virginia Tech, Toledo, Texas Southern, and LSU.

Here is the schedule for the weekend (Times listed are in EST):

Friday: 1pm - Toledo vs Texas Southern, 8pm - Virginia Tech vs LSU

Saturday: 2pm - Virginia Tech vs Texas Southern, 7pm - LSU vs Toledo

Sunday: Noon - Toledo vs Virginia Tech, 4pm - LSU vs Texas Southern

This is a great opportunity for all four teams as LSU's Alex Box stadium is truly a one of a kind facility. The 10,326 seater surrounding Skip Bertman field was only recently built (to replace the old Alex Box stadium) and the crowd should be out in full force. The Tigers have the best attendance in the country when it comes to baseball, and have held that title for 14 years. Last year alone LSU averaged over 11,000 fans per game. With fans literally overflowing from the ballpark, expect the home field advantage to be a factor.

Tech has never played LSU in baseball, although they are 51-59-3 against the SEC, with the majority of those games coming against South Carolina.

Lets take an in depth look at the four teams.

Virginia Tech

The Hokies were originally scheduled to open the season with a tournament in Charlotte, but it was canceled due to inclement weather. Instead Tech made the trek to Charleston, SC to play the Citadel and Delaware in what amounted to a mini tournament. Patrick Mason's squad emerged from the round robin with a 1-1 record. The Hokies' opener against the Citadel was not a pretty affair. Redshirt senior Tanner McIntyre took the mound for the first start of the year (and his first game since his season ending shoulder injury last April). McIntyre was a perfect 10-0 going into the game, but would leave with his first ever loss in orange and maroon, allowing four runs through 1.2 innings en route to a 6-2 Bulldog win. Kit Scheetz took the reins in the second and finished the game. Scheetz allowed two runs, struck out three and walked three through 6.1 innings. Tech only managed two runs off of five hits, both runs coming in the top of the 9th when the game was already out of reach.

Tech's game against Delaware went a little differently. Senior Brad Markey got the start for the Hokies and earned the win in an 8-1 route of the Blue Hens. Markey was masterful with nine strikeouts and no walks through six innings. He also gave up six hits and only one run. Freshman Aaron McGarity saw his first action on the mound as a Hokie in a relief pitcher role with an impressive three strikeouts, no walks and no runs through two innings. Sean Kennedy added another two strikeouts as a closer in the 9th. An even brighter spot might be that Tech's bats came alive as the team battled their way to 11 hits, seven RBIs, and seven walks to nine strikeouts.

While we haven't seen any home runs from the squad yet, Alex Perez tripled and sophomore shortstop Matt Dauby doubled twice in the win against Delaware. Two games isn't enough to make any conclusions, but for a team that relied on hitting the ball with power last season, this may be a sign that the game plan truly is changing in Blacksburg. Most impressive of all is the 12 walks the Hokies took last weekend, something Tech struggled with all of last year. There are a lot of question marks on both offense and defense, but the team is showing signs that this could be a special year. If Tech can lock in the pitching rotation and get their batters to work the counts late into the game they have a good chance at emerging from the tournament with at least two wins.

Here is what the Hokies' batting order has looked like the past two games:

Saige Jenco (r-Fr) - CF

Alex Perez (Jr)- 2B

Mark Zagunis (Jr) - C

Sean Keselica (Jr) - 1B

Ryan Burns (r-So) - LF

Brendon Hayden (Jr) - DH

Kyle Wernicki (r-Jr) (VS the Citadel)/Tom Stoffel (Fr) (VS Delware) - RF

Matt Dauby (So) - SS

Ricky Surum (Fr) (VS the Citadel)/Ryan Tufts (Fr) (VS Delaware) - 3B

Note: Against Delaware, Burns and Hayden flip flopped spots in the batting order, Hayden batting 5th and Burns batting 6th

So far coach Mason has gone with a combination of youth and experience. Don't be surprised if you don't see the same lineup twice this weekend as Mason may take an opportunity to get his freshmen some experience in a big time ballpark. I anticipate Markey getting the start against LSU but this team is still figuring things out and putting McIntyre on the mound isn't out of the question.

LSU

LSU is a baseball powerhouse. The second ranked Tigers are fresh off of a 2013 SEC championship and College World Series appearance. LSU finished the season 57-11 (23-7 conference), losing to UCLA and UNC in the CWS. Tech would have played that team in the super regional had they beaten Oklahoma last year.

This team is downright scary. Here are some of their numbers from 2013:

Statistic Measured:

Score:

Ranking:

Batting Average

.305.

19th

Earned Run Average

2.4

3rd

WHIP

.1.06

2nd

Slugging Percentage

.432.

30th

Shutouts

9

7th (Tie)

Scoring

6.5/game

38th

On Base Percentage

.389.

27th

Hits Allowed/9 Innings

7.05

4th

Fielding Percentage

.980.

6th

Walks Allowed/9 Innings

2.49

12th

These stats paint the perfect picture of a team that owns the field as soon as they step on it. LSU has a very capable offense, 2nd in the SEC in runs scored only a year ago, but defense is their staple. They refuse to let the other team score. A quick look at their ERA, WHIP, and hits allowed is enough to see that their pitching rotation is one of the best in baseball. They are going to miss their best pitcher from 2013 in Ryan Eades, but Aaron Nola is more than capable at tearing batters down. The Tigers had nine players taken in the 2013 MLB draft, but it appears that they have simply reloaded and are off to another good start. Their weaknesses will be shown over the course of the season against stiff SEC competition, but they will more than likely look like a tournament team this weekend. LSU is 4-0 going into Friday's game, with wins over New Orleans, Grambling, and Southeastern Louisiana. The amassed 22 runs over that span while allowing just seven. They have a lot of question marks both on the field and in the batting order with young guys coming in to fill some pretty big shoes, although the wealth of talent they have access to is among the best in baseball. They dominated the SEC in 2013 and should contend for the title again this year.

Here's a short video highlighting a game against Florida last year. Note the plays they are capable of making on defense.


05/03/2013 Florida vs LSU Baseball Highlights (via SECDigitalNetwork)


Here is how LSU fared in the Western Division of the SEC in 2013:

Team:

Conference Wins:

Conference Losses:

LSU

23

7

Arkansas

18

11

Mississippi State

16

14

Ole Miss

15

15

Alabama

14

15

Texas A&M

13

16

Auburn

13

17

There is no reason why LSU shouldn't go 3-0 this weekend. If Tech can get the bats going they might have a chance. I would have given this matchup a double take last year, but without the bats of Rash, Pinder, and Horan, it's going to be incredibly difficult to keep up with them. On paper, Tech, Toledo, and Texas Southern are simply outclassed. It the Hokies can keep within three runs of the 2nd ranked team in college baseball, that in itself will be a win.

Toledo

The Rockets are 1-2 on the season, with a win over Norfolk State and losses to Xavier and Southern. Toledo finished the 2013 season with a 25-33 record and a 13-14 record in the Mid-American Conference.

Here are the final standings in the western division of the MAC last year. The conference record is shown in parentheses:

Northern Illinois

22-34 (16-11)

Ball State

31-24 (15-12)

Toledo

25-33 (13-14)

Eastern Michigan

26-28 (12-15)

Central Michigan

25-32 (12-15)

Western Michigan

16-38 (8-19)

The fact that they finished near the bottom of a division in which the best team had a losing overall record is only compounded by their statistics.

Here are the numbers from Toledo's 2013 season:

Statistic Measured:

Score:

Rank:

Batting Average

.290.

60th

Earned Run Average

4.53

173rd

Fielding Percentage

.969.

103rd

WHIP

1.44

147th

Scoring

5/game

171st

On Base Percentage

.360.

122nd

The stats aren't eye popping, but the team does have some life in it. Hitting the ball appears to be their only major strength. The Rockets led the MAC in batting average last season and leadoff hitter Tyler Grogg stole 36 bases, a school record. But Toledo is already missing big hitters Matt Delewski and Ben Hammer and their batting average may suffer as a result. The Rockets may show some signs of scrappiness this weekend, but the Hokies should be up to the challenge with superior pitching.

Texas Southern

The maroon and gray Tigers finished the 2013 season with a 20-27 record and 4th place finish in the western division of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Here's the full standings for the western division. Conference record is shown in parentheses.:

Southern

20-21 (14-10)

Arkansas-Pine Bluff

21-30 (13-11)

Prairie View A&M

23-25 (12-12)

Texas Southern

20-27 (12-12)

Grambling State

18-30 (9-15)

Much like Toledo, Texas Southern finished the season in the basement of a division in which the winner had an overall losing record.

Texas Southern is currently 2-3 this year with wins against Lamar University and South Dakota State University. Their losses came against South Dakota State and Jackson State, to whom they lost twice. So far it appears that the Tigers' struggles from 2013 are still on-going.

Here are their stats from 2013:

Statistic Measured:

Score:

Rank:

Batting Average

.254.

247th

Earned Run Average

5.1

226th

WHIP

1.56

214th

Scoring

5.1

159th

On Base Percentage

.354.

160th

Texas Southern isn't making the NCAA tournament anytime soon. At best this team goes 1-2 this weekend with a surprise win over Toledo, although in all likelihood they will leave Baton Rouge without a win.

Weekend Summary

LSU is by far the favorite for this tournament. Despite losing major talent from last year the Tigers are still a top five team. With the home field also being a factor, odds are that LSU emerges unscathed. Tech has a good chance at going 2-1 if they can make contact at the plate. 2-1 would be a respectable result, especially if they play the home team close. The Hokies should beat Texas Southern and Toledo handily provided they don't encounter any setbacks. This team is going to be hard to figure out as the season goes on, but this weekend will go a long way to helping the fans know what kind of squad we are going to have.

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