LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette’s baseball team had to go on the road and pull off a huge upset in 2000 to earn its only trip to the College World Series.
This year, if the Ragin’ Cajuns keep winning at their current nation-leading pace, they’ll go straight from their M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field home base to TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, Nebraska, site of the June 14-25 CWS.
The Cajuns earned one of the eight national seeds from the NCAA selection committee, a selection that brought cheers from the UL-Lafayette players and several hundred red-clad fans Monday when the Cajuns logo popped up on the Moore Field video screen.
The school’s first national seed puts the Cajuns (53-7) as hosts for this weekend’s regional that features a 6 p.m. Friday contest against SWAC champion Jackson State (31-23). At-large selection Mississippi State (37-22) meets Mountain West Conference tournament champion San Diego State (42-19) in Friday’s 1 p.m. opener. All games in the Lafayette Regional will be online on ESPN3.
Friday losers play at 1 p.m. Saturday in an elimination game, and Friday’s winners meet at 6 p.m. Saturday, with the winner advancing to the finals at 6 p.m. Sunday against the winner of Sunday’s 1 p.m. elimination game. The “if necessary” game is at 6 p.m. Monday.
Their No. 6 national seed also means UL-Lafayette would host its first super regional the following weekend, if the Cajuns are successful in winning in their second outing as a regional host.
“It wasn’t like it was a surprise,” said Cajuns junior second baseman Jace Conrad, the Sun Belt Conference’s Player of the Year and an All-Sun Belt tournament pick Sunday after helping UL-Lafayette win its first conference tournament title since 1998. “I told myself this morning not to get too pumped up. We expected to host, and we expected to be a Top-8 seed.”
The team and fans spent Memorial Day morning watching the ESPNU selection show at an announcement party at the park, and they weren’t disappointed with the results or the broadcast. The Cajuns were the only team from the 64-team bracket shown live by the network during the broadcast.
“There’s going to be some mayhem down there,” ESPN studio host Dari Nowkhah said when talking about the Ragin’ Cajuns.
“That shows that we have a good atmosphere here,” junior outfielder Caleb Adams said. “We had the best record in the country, we have the best fans in the country, and I think they wanted to show a glimpse of that.”
UL-Lafayette was a lock for the regional host spot even before going to Mobile, Alabama, and sweeping four games to claim the Sun Belt tournament. Winning there, including the 6-5 Sunday win over UT-Arlington in the final, may have clinched the national seed and put the Cajuns in company with Florida and Florida State as the only schools to have both their baseball and softball teams earn national seeds.
The Louisiana-Lafayette softball team used that home-field advantage over the past two weekends to sweep their regional and super regional events and is headed to a Thursday opening game in the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
“Now, to have our fans wrapped around us, that’s just an extra bonus for us,” said UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux, whose team will make its 14th NCAA tournament appearance. “Now hopefully, just like our girls did, we can take the momentum from our fans and use that momentum when we play.”
The Lafayette Regional is paired with the Oxford Regional for the super regional round, with Georgia Tech, Washington and Jacksonville State joining host Ole Miss there. If the Cajuns win their regional round, as they did in their only other regional-host season in 2000, the Oxford winner comes to Moore Field for the super regional May 30-June 2.
“I’m loving that UL regional matching with the Oxford regional,” former LSU All-American and ESPN commentator Ben McDonald said during the selection show. “UL’s got a really exciting team.”
In 2000, UL-Lafayette defeated East Carolina in the regional finals and advanced to super regional play at Columbia, South Carolina, against No. 1 South Carolina. After losing the best-of-three opener to the Gamecocks, the Cajuns won Games 2 and 3 to earn their only trip to Omaha, Nebraska.
“The bottom line, we’ve been wanting to go back every year,” Robichaux said. “There’s some teams that utter the word ‘Omaha,’ and there’s some teams that believe they can really get there. And this team believes they can get there. Will it be easy? No, it will not, but we have the style that we need to get there.
“The Omaha team was a bunch of grinders, and this group’s definitely a bunch of grinders.”