The LSU Tigers were one win away from getting back to the College World Series last season, but a red-hot Stony Brook team kept the Tigers from reaching their goal.
LSU has not been to the College World Series since 2009, which is the Tigers last national championship team. That means for seniors Chris Cotton, Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes, this is their last chance to make their first and only trip to Omaha.
Here are five keys for LSU to make its long-awaited return to the CWS.
1. Nola and Eades need to be dominant
The Tigers had a good one-two punch in their weekend rotation with Kevin Gausman and Aaron Nola last season. The two combined to win 19 games. Nola takes over Gausman's spot as the staff ace. Coach Paul Mainieri is anticipating Nola to build on his solid freshman campaign. Ryan Eades starts the season as the Saturday starter. Mainieri believes Eades can put up Gausman-like numbers.
2. Strong bullpen
LSU was 17-and-8 in one-run games last season and you can thank an effective bullpen. Nick Goody had 11 saves, Cotton had an ERA of 1.59 in 36 games and Joey Bourgeois also had a solid year with a 2.38 ERA. Goody is in professional baseball and Cotton may get a chance to start a few games this season. Mainieri will give junior Kurt McCune a chance to close some games this season. McCune had an ERA of 4.04 last season, but Mainieri says McCune has developed a split finger fastball, which could make him more effective this season. Nick Rumbelow will also be a key part of the bullpen, but he'll miss the opening series with a strained oblique.
3. New faces need to make an impact
LSU will be led by a couple of seniors in Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes, but the play of the newcomers will determine whether LSU is Omaha-bound. Freshman Alex Bregman takes over for Austin Nola at shortstop, Mark Laird will start at right field and he's expected to get on base for the heart of the order. Junior college transfer Christian Ibarra will be the starter at third base. Ibarra will be steady with the glove at the hot corner.
4. Big junior season from Jacoby Jones
Jones was a freshman All-American, but the Mississippi native went through a sophomore slump. Jones hit .253 last year and struck out a team-high 47 times. This is the year for Jones to put it all together and finish the year as an All-SEC player
5. Tigers need a little luck
LSU was good enough to play in the College World Series last season. Unfortunately, the Tigers ran into a Stony Brook team loaded with Major League prospects in the super regional series. The Tigers will hope for a better draw this year. LSU is already catching an unlucky break by playing two of the best teams in the SEC West on the road this year, Arkansas and Mississippi State.