As of Monday's rankings released by Baseball America, both the Tigers (No. 7) and Cajuns (No. 10) land amongst the nation's best teams, and that should fuel what's expected to be a rowdy atmosphere in The Box. The two teams already share a storied history, and Tuesday's contest will mark LSU's stiffest challenge of the year thus far.
Paul Mainieri. "It's perfect timing. We respect all of our opponents, but there's no question ULL will be the best team we've faced at this point in the season."
LSU and ULL met twice in 2013, once during the regular season — an 11-2 victory for LSU — and again in the Baton Rouge regional, another win for the Tigers that sent them to the Super Regional.
Cody Glenn will get the start for LSU, almost a year after he made his first start of 2013 against this very team. Glenn got the upper-hand in that contest, limiting the Cajuns to just three hits in seven innings of work.
Glenn's still in a competition for a spot in the weekend rotation, and he'll need an outing similar to that one last year in order to keep pace with Jared Poche and Kyle Bouman.
"He pitched very well against them last year," Mainieri said. "He's pitched very well against a lot of teams. If he throws in the strike zone and changes his speeds effectively, then he can do a good job against them."
ULL plans to counter with junior righty Greg Milhorn, who's allowed just two hits and no runs in 7 1/3 innings this season.
It's been the Cajun offense though that's played a large part in their early success this year. ULL led the nation in home runs in 2013, and they already have five dingers so far in 2014. The Cajuns also have 27 total extra base hits.
"They have a very powerful lineup," Mainieri said. "They've got some men they're going to send up to the plate. You better make some good pitches against these guys if you want to be successful, because if you miss, it could be three runs with one swing of the bat."
KEEPING AN EYE ON THE WEATHER
LSU will need a little help from Mother Nature if they want to get Tuesday's game in as scheduled. Weather forecasts predict a 40 percent chance of rain for game time, and it's possible as much as a half-inch of rain falls throughout the day.
Rainy conditions already affected one game this season. Sunday's game against Texas Southern had to be delayed two hours because of rain, but Mainieri said he's optimistic they'll take the field as planned on Tuesday.
"I know the weather forecast is a little bit shaky at this point," Mainieri said. "And I've been in contact with [ULL coach] Tony [Robichaux] a little bit looking at possible makeup dates in case tomorrow doesn't work. We're going to try though, and the weather around here can change pretty quickly."
Mainieri said if the game needs to be made up, it likely wouldn't happen this week. He said they don't want to create a conflict Wednesday with the men's basketball game against Texas A&M, and Thursday likely wouldn't work with both teams set to begin weekend series on Friday.
NO QUALMS WITH THE BULLPEN
Mainieri called his bullpen one of the biggest question marks heading into the season, but that unit's been one of the best in the country through seven games.
With the exception of Brady Domangue, LSU relievers have not yet surrendered a run this season. The entire staff's 1.00 ERA ranks the Tigers fifth in the country, and that's certainly been a point of pride for Mainieri and his team.
"It's still early in the year, and they'll have their bumps along the way," Mainieri said. "You can't expect them to be perfect like they've been up to this point. But seven games into the season, you can't be more pleased."
Entering the season, it was open season in terms of who'd win the bullpen roles. At this point there hasn't been much separation among the top arms, and while that might make some future decisions a bit harder for Mainieri, he said that's a problem he welcomes with open arms.
"This is a coach's dream," Mainieri said. "Competition either brings out the best in you or the worst in you. What it's doing with these guys is bringing out the best in them, and that gives me more confidence in being able to use any of them."
---LSU is the best team in the country, according to the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. One of five widely used college baseball polls, the Tigers hold the honor of being ranked No. 1.
"I'm so different than a lot of other coaches," Mainieri said. "I think it's neat. I love it. One of our goals is to get a midseason No. 1 ranking. Obviously it doesn't mean anything, but I like our players to have the feeling of being the best team in the country. When you're at LSU, that's what you aspire to be."
LSU ranks No. 3 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll, No. 7 in the Baseball America rankings and No. 9 in Perfect Games' college Top 25.
---LSU ace Aaron Nola was named one of the National Players of the Week on Monday by Collegiate Baseball magazine. Nola threw seven no-hit innings on Friday against Virginia Tech before coming out of the game because of his pitch count. It was the longest a LSU pitcher had taken a no-hitter since 1995. Nola hasn't surrendered a run yet this season and has 14 strikeouts in 13 innings.