After narrowly missing out on hosting an NCAA baseball regional, Gonzaga (33-17) heads to Eugene as the No. 2 seed this weekend.
The University of Oregon is the host for the weekend, but the Bulldogs will first take on the third-seeded LSU Tigers (34-22) in their first game on Friday at 7 p.m. on ESPNU at PK Park.
This will be the first meeting between the Tigers and the Zags. GU is 12-15 against Southeastern Conference teams.
GU secured the West Coast Conference title, its first regular-season title since 2017, before dropping the final two games of the regular season.
The Tigers boast a storied baseball history yet come into this tournament as a No. 3 seed after an up-and-down season.
They cruised to a 15-3 start, but struggled in the SEC early, getting swept in their first two series. They have impressed overall with wins over six Top 25 opponents, including No. 1 Arkansas and No. 2 Mississippi State.
Four Tigers earned All-SEC honors, led by freshman first baseman Tre’ Morgan, who batted .370 with five home runs and an OPS of 1.005.
LSU is 12th in the country in home runs with 80, so GU pitcher Alek Jacob – Friday’s starter – will look to minimize the mistakes over the heart of the plate.
Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf made a point to emphasize LSU’s power Thursday.
He and Jacob touted three Tigers who have at least 12 home runs but also noted their higher strikeout numbers, similar to Dallas Baptist University, which the Zags faced in late February.
“They’re looking for the long ball is kind of how they, how their offense runs,” Jacob said. “They’re not afraid to strike out, but they have some pop too, so you can’t make mistakes. I haven’t really looked into like specific guys too much. You know, I’m trying to go out there and pitch my style and I’m not going to change myself, my attack, too much.”
Dylan Crew, Cade Doughty and Gavin Dugas are the three LSU sluggers who can change the course of the game with one swing.
“I think these four teams in this region are pretty evenly matched,” Machtolf said. “They’re very similar.
“LSU has maybe a little more power than the rest, but I think everybody’s capable and we’re looking forward to hopefully plan well and seeing what we can do.”
Jacob will duel LSU’s ace, Landon Marceaux, in one of the more high-profile matchups on the NCAA Tournament’s first day.
Marceaux secured All-SEC second-team honors while throwing 91⅔ innings with a 2.26 ERA and 107 strikeouts while sporting a 6-5 record. Jacob, the WCC Pitcher of the Year, learned on Thursday he was named to Collegiate Baseball’s All-American second team.
GU third baseman and Collegiate Baseball third-team All-American Brett Harris complimented Marceaux, but noted Jacob is more than ready to show his stuff on a national stage.
“We learned a lot about their starting pitcher. He is a really good arm,” Harris said. “He’s going be a challenge for us. But I think we do really well against really good pitching. And they swing it well, but we have, in my opinion, one of the best pitchers in the country throwing for us tomorrow.”
Jacob finished the regular season with a 7-1 record, 2.82 ERA with 103 strikeouts in 76⅔ innings.
“He’s obviously a really good pitcher for LSU, should be sweet,” Jacob said. “I’m really excited, obviously.
“Pitcher duels are obviously fun, just going out there trying to beat them. It’s like me versus you, who can outdo the other guy.”
The Bulldogs are excited to get their postseason started after unfinished business in 2018, no postseason appearance in 2019 and a canceled 2020 season.
But the pressure of success isn’t wearing on the Zags.
“You’re playing baseball and not focusing on anything else in the world,” Jacob said. “Really just enjoying it, just here with my teammates having as much fun as we can.”
Harris, making his first postseason as a Bulldog, at first struggled to put his feelings into words.
“It’s a dream come true coming to Gonzaga and being able to play in the postseason,” he said.