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Field set for annual College Classic in Houston

Special to MLB.com

HOUSTON -- The last time LSU played at Minute Maid Park, in 2015, Alex Bregman was a junior for the Tigers and Draft-eligible.

"I remember him coming out here and playing like crazy for three games, and who knows if that had anything to do with the Astros picking him with their first pick," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "Maybe one of our guys this weekend will stick out the same way."

HOUSTON -- The last time LSU played at Minute Maid Park, in 2015, Alex Bregman was a junior for the Tigers and Draft-eligible.

"I remember him coming out here and playing like crazy for three games, and who knows if that had anything to do with the Astros picking him with their first pick," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "Maybe one of our guys this weekend will stick out the same way."

Fourth-ranked LSU (8-1) returns this weekend to participate in the six-team Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic, which also includes top-ranked TCU (7-1), No. 20 Ole Miss (7-1), No. 21 Texas Tech (9-1), No. 25 Texas A&M (8-1) and undefeated Baylor (9-0). Minute Maid Park has been the site of the College Classic since 2001. The format, new this year, features nine games of SEC versus Big 12.

"This is a great experience to play here," said Mainieri. "It's so close to Baton Rouge, and so many LSU alumni are in Houston, big Houston Astros fans.

"The competition is outstanding, the field's beautiful. ... We're looking forward to getting on the field and competing against the best teams in the country not named LSU."

The classic runs Friday through Sunday, with the marquee game being Friday's 7:05 p.m. CT game between TCU and LSU, which met in the College World Series in Omaha in 2015, with TCU winning both games.

"It's two great programs, one that has a heck of a lot of tradition [LSU] and TCU trying to continue to build ours," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "It's just one game, but it should be fun for the fans and a great experience for the players and coaches."

TCU right-hander Brian Howard (1-1), drafted by the Astros in the 17th round last year, will oppose LSU right-hander Alex Lange (2-0) in Friday's anticipated matchup. LSU's Saturday starter against Baylor will be lefty Jared Poche, whose bid for a second straight no-hitter in his previous start was broken up in the ninth inning.

The coaches who attended Thursday's First Pitch Luncheon likened this year's field to what teams will face if they advance to the College World Series.

TCU has reached the College World Series the past three years, and Texas Tech participated last year. LSU has regularly played in Omaha and has won six championships -- one under Mainieri.

"This is like playing one full side of the bracket in the College World Series," Schlossnagle said. "This certainly will prepare a team for conference play, and NCAA tournament play as well. There's going to be future Major League players on this field, so it should be a lot of fun."

Among the top players participating this weekend are TCU's Luken Baker, a projected first-round pick for 2018 who is hitting .346 with three home runs in eight games, and Texas A&M pitcher Corbin Martin.

"It's an incredible thought in putting it together," Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said. "If you are a college baseball fan, this is the place to be this weekend. It's as good a tournament you're going to have before you get to Omaha.

"It's going to be better than any regional than any team will play in come June. It's going to be a great weekend of baseball, and by the end of it, teams are going to know what they need to focus on and improve on."

All six teams are nationally ranked in at least one baseball poll. The only team not nationally ranked by Baseball America is Baylor, the only undefeated team in the event and ranked 17th by Collegiate Baseball. The six teams are a combined 48-5.

Said Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock: "I don't know what tournament you'd go to other than this one and play this type of competition all in one weekend. It looks to me that everybody is playing a good brand of baseball. I don't know anybody that's limping in here. It's just a great platform for all us to spread awareness of the Shriners Children's Hospital. The kids win."

Following is the schedule for the College Classic. All times CT.

Friday, March 3
12:05 p.m.: Ole Miss at Baylor
3:35 p.m.: Texas Tech at Texas A&M
7:05 p.m.: TCU at LSU

Saturday, March 4
12:05 p.m.: Texas Tech at Ole Miss
3:35 p.m.: Baylor at LSU
7:05 p.m.: Texas A&M at TCU

Sunday, March 5
10:05 a.m.: LSU at Texas Tech
1:35 p.m.: TCU at Ole Miss
5:05 p.m.: Texas A&M at Baylor

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com.

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