Weekend Preview: Vanderbilt

Aaron Nola has not allowed a run this season

No. 6 LSU kicks off the SEC slate against No. 5 Vanderbilt this weekend. Friday night's contest will feature two of the best pitchers in the nation, and this series will be a battle for conference supremacy.

It's hard to imagine a more challenging start to the SEC slate than what No. 6 LSU's facing this weekend.

The Tigers venture to Nashville for a three-game series against No. 5 Vanderbilt, starting Friday night at 6:30 p.m. The Commodores have one of the best pitching staffs in the country, and have outscored opponents 105-29 en route to a 16-2 record.

"Pick the team you would've wished us to start with," said LSU coach Paul Mainier. "Every team in this league is so good that there are no easy games. There's no easing into the SEC schedule. You just jump in feet first and let's go, let's line it up and play. This is what you come to LSU for."

TSD has more on this upcoming series, but first, here are the weekend's pitching matchups, game time and TV listing.

PITCHING MATCHUPS


Game 1 – 6:30 p.m.
LSU – Jr. RHP Aaron Nola (4-0, 0.00 ERA, 27.0 IP, 2 BB, 36 SO)
VU – Jr. RHP Tyler Beede (4-0, 1.08 ERA, 25.0 IP, 5 BB, 33 SO)

Game 2 – 2:15 p.m. (Fox Sports Net)
LSU – Jr. LHP Kyle Bouman (3-0, 1.46 ERA, 24.2 IP, 1 BB, 13 SO)
VU – Jr. LHP Jared Miller (4-0, 0.36 ERA, 24.2 IP, 6 BB, 22 SO)

Game 3 – 1:00 p.m.
LSU – Fr. LHP Jared Poche' (4-0, 0.90 ERA, 20.0 IP, 2 BB, 15 SO) VU – So. RHP Tyler Ferguson (3-0, 1.50 ERA, 24.0 IP, 6 BB, 22 SO)


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Everyone in the college baseball world will have their eyes on that Friday night matchup between two of the nation's top pitchers. Vanderbilt announced that more than 100 MLB scouts and general managers requested tickets to watch Nola and Beede battle.

Nola and Beede will both likely be first-round selections in the MLB draft this summer, but that couldn't be further from either pitcher's mind. In fact, Nola can't concern himself with what Beede's doing on the mound.

"It's just going out there and doing my normal thing," Nola said. "It's more me against their lineup, and it's easy for me to keep my mind on that, play for myself and play for my team. I just have to do my job and that's all I can do."


Tyler Beede will be a tough challenge for the LSU hitters
Worrying about Beede is for the LSU hitters. The junior righty has a fastball that runs into the mid- to upper-90s, a good breaking ball and a plus-changeup. Opponents are hitting just .129 against him and his 33 strikeouts trail Nola by three for the conference lead.

"I heard he's a great pitcher," said Kade Scivicque, who leads LSU in batting average. "Everyone tries to compare him to Nola. Nola's good, so I guess we'll see what he has whenever we get there."

Several of the LSU players said hitting off Nola during intrasquad scrimmages has helped prepare them for facing a guy like Beede, and Nola's numbers this season speak for themselves. He still has not surrendered a run this year and has a streak of 53 innings without giving up an earned run.

He leads the conference in ERA and strikeouts and ranks in the top five in all other relevant pitching categories.

"I love playing behind Aaron," Alex Bregman said. "He does a great job every time out of pounding the zone and competing. That's all he's going to do. He's going to be the same guy he is every time out, and I look forward to playing behind him."

But the great pitching matchups don't end there. Vanderbilt's team ERA of 1.33 ranks them behind only South Carolina in the SEC. The Commodores have four relievers with at least 8 innings pitched this season that haven't allowed an earned run.

Vanderbilt's closer, Carson Fulmer, has struck out 23 batters in 13 2/3 innings of work this season. The other two weekend starters have a combined WHIP of 0.781.

"You start to look at the opposing team and they seem larger than life," Mainieri said. "But you have to remember they're just kids, they're just a team. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else does."

The last time these teams met came in the 2013 SEC Tournament championship game, which LSU won in 11 innings. The Tigers have won four of their last five meetings in the postseason, but have lost five straight regular season meetings with the Commodores.

"They might be holding a grudge, but we like that," said Tyler Moore, referencing last year's SEC Tournament. "We like having a target on our back and having our back against the wall. We're ready for it."

AROUND THE SEC


No. 14 Ole Miss (16-2) at No. 1 South Carolina (16-0)

The conference's only remaining unbeaten looks to continue that perfect start against a Rebel team that's exceeded expectations in the early season. Friday night's matchup between Chris Ellis (2-0, 0.00 ERA) and Jordan Montgomery (3-0, 1.99 ERA) is of the SEC's best.

No. 21 Kentucky (13-4) at Alabama (10-5)

The Wildcats possess the conference's most productive offense, but Alabama possess a young team that's playing well and had a combined no-hitter earlier this season.

Arkansas (8-5) at Florida (11-6)

These two traditional powers have had a tough start to the 2013 season, but they'll both look to turn things around in a big series to open conference play.

No. 23 Texas A&M (13-5) at Auburn (11-6)

No. 20 Mississippi State (13-7) at Georgia (12-6)

No. 26 Tennessee (15-1) at Missouri (8-7)

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