PREVIEW: UCLA vs. LSU

LSU starter Aaron Nola

LSU will face off against UCLA on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. when they open play in the 2013 College World Series. Both teams will feature stellar pitching and defense, but the game will boil down to which squad can execute most effectively on offense.

OMAHA, Neb. -- After being the first two teams to punch their tickets to the 2013 College World Series, LSU (57-9) and UCLA (44-17) will be the last teams to play in the first round in Omaha. Both quads have been on tears in the postseason by sweeping their Regional and Super Regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

LSU reached Omaha by defeating Jackson State, Sam Houston State and UL-Lafayette in the Baton Rouge Regional. They then defeated Oklahoma in two straight games to claim the Super Regional and move on to the next opponent.

UCLA defeated San Diego, San Diego State and Cal-Poly to advance to the Super Regional round, where they defeated Cal State Fullerton twice to get to Omaha.

The two teams differ in skillsets quite significantly with UCLA focusing on pitching and defense. While that may be the case, LSU's Paul Mainieri believes that it will be a very competitive game with both teams more than likely taking similar approaches in strategy.

"They are more of a team that likes to play small ball," said Mainieri. "However, with how college baseball is today, there won't be as big of a difference in strategy as there has been in the past."

LSU enters the game hitting .308 as a team, with the offense seemingly on the verge of a breakout after a slow start early on in the postseason. The return of junior JaCoby Jones after a hand injury has certainly improved the potency of the LSU lineup.

The Tigers are led at the plate by freshman Alex Bregman with an average of .380 and six homeruns in 2013. Next in line is senior Mason Katz. The right-hander is currently hitting .366 with 15 homeruns and 68 RBI.

LSU's offense has been extremely productive in 2013, something that differs significantly from UCLA. As a team, the Bruins enter the opening game of the College World Series hitting .251 with only 19 homeruns combined.

Individually, UCLA is led at the plate by sophomore third baseman Kevin Kramer with an average of .279, three homeruns and 40 RBI. Sophomore Eric Filla and junior Pat Gallagher are the next Bruin hitting leaders with averages of .277 and .278, respectively.

In terms of offensive strategy, the two teams differ quite significantly. LSU has a lineup that is loaded with hitters capable of driving the ball with gap-to-gap power as a source of run production. UCLA doesn't have as productive of an offense and they tend to play small-ball and rely on pitching and defense to win games.

Entering the game, LSU senior Mason Katz believes the Tigers will have to be prepared for the different offensive approach of the Bruins.

"We have to play our game," said Katz. "We can't play based off of the way they play because they will try to get a couple of runs and then shut us down with pitching. We can play a little bit of both power and small ball to score more runs than them.

The areas where the two teams matchup extremely well is in pitching and defense, especially the two starters for Sunday's game.

LSU will send sophomore Aaron Nola to the mound. On the season, Nola has compiled a record of 12-0 with a 1.68 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 118 innings pitched.

UCLA will put junior right-hander Adam Putko on the bump to try to counter Nola of LSU. Putko has been very impressive this season as he has an ERA of 2.35 while compiling a record of 8-3 in 2013.

Sophomore right-hander David Berg is one of the top closers in the country for UCLA. In 2013, he has compiled a record of 7-0 and an ERA of 0.88. He has also been successful in converting 21 save attempts.

Katz believes that it should be a good matchup between the two starters.

"UCLA has a very good pitching staff," said Katz. "They have good starters and the back end of their bullpen is very good. They have a really good closer. We're going to be facing a good starter and it's going to be a battle.

While it will be very interesting to see how the two offenses are able to counter one another, it will be equally interesting to see who gets the better of the other on the mound. The matchup between Nola and Putko will once again showcase two of the top arms in college baseball, just as it did last Friday for LSU in their Super Regional win over Oklahoma.

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For more on this matchup between LSU and UCLA, be sure to check out Hunter Paniagua's Keys to the Game for the Tigers as they hope to start the CWS off with a win.

Keys to the Game

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The TSD staff also discusses LSU's outlook in the College World Series and also previews the opener against UCLA in this FREE HD video.

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