LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team’s path to Omaha is now clear.
The Ragin’ Cajuns, who found out Sunday night that they would be hosting an NCAA tournament regional for the third time in school history, learned Monday morning that they would welcome Arizona, Sam Houston State and Princeton in the Lafayette regional starting Friday. The Cajuns’ first game will be against Princeton at 7 p.m. Friday.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to host; that was one of our goals this year,” coach Tony Robichaux said. “We’ve been able to hit all our marks: We wanted to win 40 games, we wanted to win a conference championship, a conference tournament championship and hopefully be put in position to host.”
If they should advance through their regional, the Cajuns will be matched up against the winner of the Starkville regional, hosted by Mississippi State. The Cajuns and Bulldogs met in the 2014 regional in Lafayette, with the home squad prevailing.
The Cajuns enter the NCAA tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country. They have won 10 consecutive games, tied with Coastal Carolina for the longest current winning streak in the country.
“We played just good, solid baseball,” Robichaux said. “We finally put all three things together night after night. And then we’ve been able to win in the different kind of ways we’ve had to win, whether we had to (sacrifice) a guy over and squeeze him in, score a bunch of runs to win — we’ve been able to win in many different ways. I think that’s all good for our confidence going into this weekend, because you’re going to have to win in many different ways to continue to advance from this point on.”
It wasn’t that long ago that the Cajuns were considered long shots to host a regional tournament. A loss to LSU in the Wally Pontiff Classic on March 22 was the final part of a three-game losing skid that dropped the Cajuns to 12-9. While they haven’t played perfect baseball since, the Cajuns have more often than not found a way to win. They are 29-10 since the loss to LSU.
“Every team has to find themselves,” senior pitcher Nick Zaunbrecher said. “Some teams find themselves earlier than others. It just took us a little longer. People expect a lot early, and we didn’t really produce. I think it just speaks volumes that our team is resilient. We blocked out all the noise, all the negativity, and we came back and finished strong.”
The finish was so strong that it took some of the drama out of Monday’s NCAA tournament selection show. Since the Cajuns knew they were in the tournament and knew they were hosting a regional, all that was left to determine was who would be in the opposite dugout.
“We’re not going to take anyone lightly or any of that,” senior second baseman Stefan Trosclair said. “We’re just going to play our game and keep doing what we do, have some fun at the ‘Tigue’ for the last time.”
Robichaux preferred the advance knowledge to the alternative.
“It’s surely a lot better sitting here knowing that your name’s coming up and just looking to see who’s going to be in your field — definitely,” he said. “I know how it feels on those teams that the last three that were in, the last three that were out. There have been times where we had to sit there and sweat it out, and that’s no fun.”