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No. 22 Texas hosts No. 2 LSU in big-time non-conference series

Paul Manieri has the undefeated Tigers off to their best start since 2011.

2017 Division I Men’s College World Series - Florida v LSU - Game 2 Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

For the first time since 2009, the LSU Tigers are set to play a weekend series against the Texas Longhorns in Austin, as the nation’s No. 2-ranked team visits UFCU Disch-Falk Field for a much-anticipated matchup.

Texas leads the all-tim series 22-12-1, but faces a major challenge a year after LSU beat the Horns badly in the first two games in Baton Rouge before David Pierce’s team avoided the sweep with a getaway day win.

There’s nothing especially extraordinary about the three Tigers pitchers set to take the mound — one is a freshman and another is a sophomore who missed last season due to injury. The bats are a different story, however, as LSU has scored 13 or more runs in three of the last four games, as well as scoring 12 runs in the opener against ULM and 17 runs against Air Force two days later.

Shortstop Josh Smith is leading the way with a .517 average and ranks third in the SEC in hits, runs scored, batting average and on-base percentage. In the outfield, Antoine Duplantis leads the conference in runs batted in with 23 after notching five on Wednesday against Southern. Meanwhile, fellow outfielder Zach Watson has gotten hot after Paul Manieri moved him into the second spot in the lineup — he’s 8-for-17 (.471) since making that move.

So the Tigers will have the most powerful offense that the Longhorns pitching staff has faced this season. Can Friday starter Bryce Elder continue his torrid start? Can Saturday starter Blair Henley recover from his poor start and step up to the challenge posed by the LSU hitters? Is Sunday starter Coy Cobb ready to play in a big-time atmosphere? The answers to those questions will provide an early look into this staff’s potential this season.

At the plate, junior right fielder Austin Todd has helped jumpstart the Longhorns offense with a .371 average and 12 RBIs. After losing 25 pounds during the offseason, junior third baseman Ryan Reynolds has arguably been better than Todd, leading the team with a .389 average and six extra base hits. If junior center fielder Duke Ellis can finally start getting some hits, he could serve as a catalyst at the top of the order — so far, he’s been most effective at drawing walks, leading the team with 16.

Here’s the assessment of Texas from And the Valley Shook:

Texas has a good team. They’ve got a deep rotation, a legit relief ace if someone falters, and plenty of options in the bullpen. They also have a potent offense that can hit for power while also showing speed on the basepths. They don’t give up too many outs, though they do have the standard bottom of the order guys who will lay down a bunt. This is a good, deep team, but it lacks those true high end stars. There’s lots of very good on this team, and even some potential greatness, but not a lot of established great players like LSU.

On Friday, the school announced that the Friday and Saturday games are sellouts, but there are still tickets remaining for the series finale on Sunday. Each game will air on Longhorn Network, with Friday’s first pitch scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Central.