LAFAYETTE — Barely 30 minutes after his team’s pulsating 5-3 win over Mississippi State in the final game of the Lafayette regional, Louisiana-Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux was chanting the mantra that his team followed the past month.
“We talked about it right after the game in the huddle, right after the prayer,” Robichaux said Monday night at the end of the postgame news conference. “We’ve earned the right to ....?”
The three Ragin’ Cajun players with him on the platform — second baseman Jace Conrad, pitcher Ryan Wilson and reliever Matt Plitt — answered almost in unison: “Do more,” drawing a few laughs.
It was a familiar refrain that the Cajuns used when they won conference championships, moved into the top position in the national polls and earned a high seeding for postseason play. They will get the chance to do more beginning Saturday when they host the first super regional at M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field.
UL-Lafayette, at No. 6 one of three of the top-eight national seeds to survive the regional round, will host Ole Miss for a best-of-three series that will send one team to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series beginning June 14. The series begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, with Game 2 at 8 p.m. Sunday and a third, if-necessary, game at 6 p.m. Monday.
The series will mark the second straight Southeastern Conference opponent for the Cajuns.
“When you face SEC teams, it’s just a different level of pitching than we see in our conference,” Conrad said. “We don’t see guys throwing 96 out of the left side a lot. Facing the guys we saw this weekend is going to help us down the line.”
By the numbers
NCAA statistics continue through the postseason, and UL-Lafayette enters the super regional round leading the nation in runs (515), hits (707), slugging percentage (.497), triples (31) and sacrifice flies (48). The Cajuns are second in batting average (.319), home runs (66) and doubles (134), third in on-base percentage (.411) and being hit by pitches (111), and fourth in scoring (7.9 runs per game) and stolen bases (.107).
Individually, outfielder Caleb Adams is third nationally in slugging (.689), fourth in runs (66) and seventh in triples along with teammate Seth Harrison (seven). Conrad is fifth nationally in hits (95), seventh in RBIs (65) and ninth in total bases (148). Harrison is second in sacrifice flies (11), and first baseman Chase Compton is seventh in hit-by-pitches (24).
Season-ticket holders who opted for Lafayette regional tickets have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to reserve and finalize payment for super regional tickets. Donors to the Ragin’ Cajun Athletic Foundation annual fund also may claim tickets before 5 p.m. Wednesday.
If any tickets remain after that distribution, and the 600 provided to Ole Miss by NCAA regulations, available tickets will be provided to Cajuns fans based on their 2014 RCAF annual fund giving level. It is expected that Moore Field will be sold out, as it was for the regional round.
All three games in the Lafayette Super Regional will air on ESPN2 with Tom Hart and former LSU All-American and major league pitcher Ben McDonald. If necessary, and pending the results of other super regionals, Monday’s game time could change and another of the ESPN family network could carry the game.
Should the Cajuns be successful in advancing from the super regional to their second College World Series appearance, the team’s first game could come against a familiar face.
The Lafayette super regional is paired with the Charlottesville super regional, which matches No. 3 national seed Virginia (47-13) against Maryland (39-21). Maryland is coached by former UL-Lafayette assistant coach John Szefc, who guided the Terrapins to their most successful season in school history this year.
Maryland was the No. 2 seed in the Columbia regional after making the field as an at-large team. The Terrapins took 4-3 wins over Old Dominion and host South Carolina before beating South Carolina 10-1 in Sunday’s championship game.
Maryland, which leaves the Atlantic Coast Conference and moves to the Big Ten in July, is making its first NCAA baseball tournament appearance since 1971. The Terrapins beat Virginia 7-6 in the opening round of the ACC tournament.
Few seeds to sow
Of the eight national seeds, only three survived through to the super regional round, and all three are on the same side of the College World Series bracket.
Third-seeded Virginia and sixth-seeded UL-Lafayette could meet in a first-round CWS game, and the winner of that game could face seventh-seeded TCU if the Horned Frogs win their super regional against Pepperdine. No. 2 seed Florida, on the same side of the bracket, went 0-2 in the Gainesville regional won by College of Charleston.
All four national seeds on the other side of the bracket — top-seeded Oregon State, fourth-seeded Indiana, fifth-seeded Florida State and eighth-seeded LSU — were eliminated. The elimination of five national seeds matches the most since the NCAA went to the super regional format in 1999 — equaling the number in 2007.
Of the record 10 SEC teams that earned NCAA tournament bids, Cajuns opponent Ole Miss was one of only two surviving into the super regional. Vanderbilt will face Stanford, the only Pac-12 survivor after finishing fifth in the regular-season standings.
It wasn’t just the SEC that took a big hit. The ACC lost five of its seven teams, and survivors Virginia and Maryland are matched in the super regional.
The Big 12 had the most success with a league-record four teams advancing: TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech.
UL-Lafayette’s 57-8 record puts the Cajuns three wins short of the NCAA record for season wins since the maximum 56-game regular-season rule was adopted in 1992. The most victories since that time is Florida State’s 60-14 season in 2002.
If the season ended today, the Cajuns would have the 10th-best winning percentage in NCAA Division I history with their current .876. Arizona State holds the all-time record with a 64-6 record and a .914 win percentage in 1972. The only better winning percentage since the NCAA’s games restriction was instituted in 1992 is Wichita State’s 56-7 (.889) mark in 1998.
The Cajuns entered the NCAA tournament ranked atop all four of college baseball’s major polls: Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball magazine, the USA Today coaches poll and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
Of that four, only Collegiate Baseball updates its poll after rounds of the NCAA tournament, and the Cajuns maintained their top spot in that poll and held the magazine’s top ranking for the fifth time this year.
This week’s Collegiate Baseball poll has the 16 super regional teams ranked as its top 16 teams. National No. 1 seed Oregon State, which was upset by Cal-Irvine, dropped all the way from second to 17th.