The Tennessee Volunteers face their second straight top 10 team this weekend as they play host to the No. 7 LSU Tigers in a key Southeastern Conference series for both teams at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, April 23-25. Game times are 7 p.m., 7 p.m. and 2 p.m.
The 10th-ranked Volunteers (30-9, 9-6 SEC), who sit atop the Eastern Division with a 9-6 mark, one-game ahead of Florida, are looking to rebound from a series sweep at Ole Miss last weekend. The Vols are two-games behind the Rebels in the overall standings and need to get back on the winning track to have a shot at the overall crown as the second-half of the 30-game conference slate begins.
LSU (29-10, 8-7) is tied for third with Auburn in the Western Division. The Tigers have had good success on the road this year with a 12-3 mark away from Alex Box Stadium, including a pair of conference road series wins at South Carolina and Auburn.
For the eighth straight weekend, Tennessee sends its reliable trio to the mound for the series with left-hander Derek Tharpe (6-0, 2.05 ERA) starting game one, right-hander Sean Watson (4-1, 2.52) in game two and left-hander Ben Riley (3-2, 3.96) in the finale.
Tharpe, who has taken no decisions in three of his last four starts, leads the SEC with 77 strikeouts while ranking third in ERA. Watson also has four no decisions in his last six starts and has been plagued by walks lately as he has issued 23 free passes in his last 29 innings.
Riley is slated to make his 40th career start which will tie him for fourth all-time at UT and needs just 1 1/3 innings to move into sixth place on the career innings pitched list.
LSU counters with a pair of left-handers in the first two games in Jason Determan (2-2, 3.15) and Clay Dirks (7-0, 2.43). Sunday's starter is to be announced. Dirks, one of the top freshman pitchers in the country, became the first SEC pitcher to record seven wins this season as he defeated Georgia last Saturday.
Tennessee's offensive output has been solid all season as it is averaging 8.1 runs and 11.5 hits per game, which rank as the third-best marks in school history. Designated hitter Alex Suarez continues to have a hot April as he has hit in 10 of his last 11 to raise his average to .402. Center fielder Josh Alley has also been on fire, batting safely in 13 of his last 14, hitting .327 during that span.
The heavy-hitting Tigers who lead the SEC with a .335 team batting average are led by their three outfielders. Center fielder J.C. Holt is the SEC's second-leading hitter with a .414 batting average. Right fielder Jon Zeringue has a team-high 10 home runs to go along with a .388 average, while left fielder Ryan Patterson leads the squad with 45 RBI while slugging eight home runs and batting .348.