BATON ROUGE, La. – With the top seeds holding serve in the first day of the Baton Rouge regional Friday at Alex Box Stadium, it set the stage for an early NCAA tournament meeting of national powers.
No. 7 LSU (44-16), the region's top seed, will face No. 17 Oregon State (39-18), the tourney's No. 2 seed. The pair have won three of the last six national championships and their conferences have won five of the last six national titles.
"It's SEC vs. Pac-12," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "That's a big game."
To add to the anticipation, LSU saved ace Kevin Gausman (10-1, 2.84) for the potential meeting with the Beavers. The LSU right-hander is just a few days away from being one of the first players selected in baseball's first-year player draft.
Oregon State coach Pat Casey did not commit to a starter for the game, but it will likely be either left-hander Ben Wetzler (7-2, 3.39) or right-hander Dan Child (6-3, 2.75). OSU's 2-1 win over Belmont came before LSU's 4-1 win over Louisiana-Monroe, so Casey was likely waiting for the matchup before choosing his starter.
Protect the freshman: After freshman Aaron Nola's 118-pitch start got LSU the win against ULM, Mainieri said his freshman was done for the weekend. There's no chance he'll come back to pitch in a potential championship game Monday.
"If there's a Monday game, it won't be important enough for me to put his career at stake," Mainieri said. "He's done for the weekend. He'll hopefully get ready for a start next weekend."
If LSU plays Monday, it would be either a fourth or fifth game of the weekend. Kurt McCune (3-4) could get the ball for that one, or perhaps one of the many talented relievers who have gotten the job done for the Tigers -- like Chris Cotton (6-0, 1.43) or Joey Bourgeois (3-2, 2.67).
Oregon State also protected a freshman pitcher. Left-hander Jace Fry was pulled in the sixth inning because of discomfort in his arm.
"We don't know to what extent (he was injured)," Casey said. "He just felt a little twinge in the arm. Being a freshman, we are going to protect him. He wanted to throw a couple to see how it felt, but we are not going to go down that road with him. We have a good bullpen and we are going to protect him."
The removal of Fry, who allowed one run on four hits in five-plus innings, wound up taxing the bullpen. Tony Bryant and Matt Boyd combined to pitch four innings with Bryant getting the win and Boyd getting his third save. Bryant, who went 1.2 innings before giving way to Boyd, is usually the closer.
Boyd, who has nine saves, had not been warming up when he was called in. Because it was for injury, he was given time to get warm.
"It's one of those things where you have to set your mind that you are going to be ready to pitch at any time," Bryant said. "You need to be mentally engaged in the whole game so you can be ready. It was kind of tough to get warm in such a short period of time."
Goody saved: Usually, LSU's Nick Goody gets the saves. On Friday, he was saved.
With LSU leading 4-1 in the ninth and Nola having toiled through eight innings, Mainieri opted for Cotton -- usually the set up man -- to come close. The left-hander retired ULM quietly for his first save of the season in 33 appearances. Goody has 10 saves, but struggled down the stretch.
"The reason I didn't go to Goody was because we have a long weekend," Mainieri said. "If I felt like we didn't need to use him tonight, I didn't want to. I was playing them one at a time and I had tremendous confidence in Cotton. I thought the matchups were good."
Cool night in June: Friday was unseasonably cool in Baton Rouge, with the temperature dropping into the low 70s with low humidity during the LSU-ULM game.
Not only did it give a welcome break for fans and visiting teams – especially Oregon State – it also contributed to low-scoring games.
After a cool front passed Thursday, the usual June south winds shifted and a north wind blew in from left field, turning hitter-friendly Alex Box into a fly ball graveyard.
"Austin (Nola) in particular absolutely crushed a couple of balls early in the game that I thought were going to be home runs except for the wind blowing in from left field," Mainieri said.
That should change Saturday. Forecasts call for temperatures to return to the 90s and the winds to shift to the south, meaning they will blow fly balls over the left field wall. Alex Box did not yield a home run Friday. Don't expect that to be the case again.