There’s no pretense to the Texas Southern baseball team’s situation this weekend.
The Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament champions know they will be far from favored when they face LSU in their Baton Rouge regional opener Friday in Alex Box Stadium.
In fact, no matchup in the field of 64 features two teams farther apart in RPI: LSU is fourth, and Texas Southern is 267th. There are 299 baseball programs in Division I.
There’s such disparity between the teams that Texas Southern coach Michael Robertson isn’t bothering to harp on any kind of David-vs.-Goliath motif with his players, because they know where they stand.
But still, crazier things have happened.
“It’ll have to be to come from behind,” Robertson said of Texas Southern’s best chance to pull off the upset. “I think that would be the way to go. Controlling them in the early innings is going to be very important. We know they’re going to put the ball in play. We’ll get maybe two or three opportunities to create a big inning, and we’d have to cash in.”
It wouldn’t be unprecedented for Texas Southern (20-32) to play the spoiler's role. In 1987, Southern was the first HBCU to win a regional game when it upset Cal State Fullerton in New Orleans.
Since 2000, SWAC teams have won four of the 40 regional games they have played. Texas Southern earned its first (and so far only) postseason win in 2004 when it upset Rice. The Owls, coincidentally, are in the Baton Rouge regional, too.
This won’t be the first time Texas Southern has come to Baton Rouge, either. It played in a regional at LSU in 2008, when the host Tigers won 12-1.
“We don’t have anything to lose,” Robertson said. “I don’t think we’ll be pressured at all.”
Robertson said he has not named a starter for Friday, but left-handed junior Anthony Martinez likely will get the nod. Martinez went 4-3 this season while making nine starts, allowing 31 earned runs on 64 hits.
One factor that bodes well for Texas Southern: When Friday arrives, it won’t have played in nearly two weeks. The SWAC plays its tournament a week earlier than most conferences; it wrapped up May 21 in New Orleans.
“We’ve just been trying to stay sharp and make sure we get our kids ready to go,” Robertson said. “All our pitchers are rested, and we know we’re not going to have to worry about keeping a pitch count on any of our guys.
“All and all, it’s a great opportunity to make some history.”