LAFAYETTE — Once the NCAA baseball tournament’s Baton Rouge regional field was announced Monday, it didn’t take long for Louisiana-Lafayette to figure out where it was headed for the postseason.
Houston’s logo popped up on the broadcast next.
“That’s what we were expecting, either the LSU or the Houston regional,” shortstop Blake Trahan said.
Trahan’s and most observers’ predictions came true when the Ragin’ Cajuns were announced shortly thereafter as the No. 3 seed and the only out-of-town team in the regional at Houston’s Cougar Field.
The Cajuns meet No. 2 seed Rice (35-20) in Friday’s 2:30 p.m. opening game, with the Cougars (42-18) meeting Houston Baptist (28-25) at 7 p.m. in their first regional-host spot since the 2000 season.
“I never really get into ‘easy regionals’ or evaluating stuff like that,” UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux said, “because now you’re paired up with the best 64 teams in the country, so you have to play well.”
But Robichaux didn’t hide the fact that he liked the proximity of the Cajuns’ third NCAA tournament trip in three years.
“We have a huge Ragin’ Cajun fan base in Houston,” he said, “and we have a couple of recruits and a couple of players from there, so that’s good for us. And the last time we were there, we were able to win that regional, so we’ve played well there.”
That previous Houston trip was in 1999, when UL-Lafayette swept three games over Texas and Houston (twice) in the year that the NCAA inaugurated the expanded format and included the super regional round. The Cajuns’ win in that regional qualified them for those first-year super regionals, and ironically they returned to Houston the next weekend to take on this year’s first-round foe, Rice, at the Astrodome.
UL-Lafayette lost that best-of-three series but used that experience a year later to break through and win a super regional in South Carolina to advance to the 2000 College World Series.
Most of the current Cajuns weren’t even in grade school when UL-Lafayette made those back-to-back Houston trips. But they do remember beating then-No. 22 Houston 6-5 in an April 7 midweek game at “Tigue” Moore Field.
“That’ll give us a little confidence,” Trahan said, “but they are going to be ready to go. This is a regional game, and it’s a little different than a midweek game. They’re going to bring their ‘A’ game, and hopefully we’ll meet them in the second round.”
The Cajuns haven’t faced Rice since 2011, when the nationally ranked Owls took a 2-1 win in a midweek game at Moore Field; the only player still on the UL-Lafayette roster from that year is fifth-year senior Tyler Girouard, a 2011 redshirt. The teams have met five times in NCAA postseason play, with Rice holding a 3-2 advantage; three of those meetings came in that 1999 super regional.
Rice won the Conference USA regular-season title by a three-game margin and has won or shared championships in all 10 of its years in C-USA. But the Owls went two-and-out at the C-USA tournament, dropping back-to-back 6-5 decisions to eventual champion Florida International and Middle Tennessee.
The Owls, who ranked as high as No. 15 during the regular season, are in the NCAA tournament for the 21st straight year, the fourth-longest active streak and tied for the fourth-longest postseason streak in Division I history.
The Cajuns did exactly the opposite as the Owls to earn their NCAA trip, finishing third in the Sun Belt regular-season but winning five straight games after an opening-round loss in last weekend’s conference tournament. Stefan Trosclair’s grand slam in the 12th inning Sunday gave UL-Lafayette a 5-1 win over regular-season champion South Alabama in the tournament title game, securing the league’s only NCAA berth.
“After what we went through the past week, it’s exciting to see our name come up on the screen,” Trosclair said. “It gives us a lot of momentum going into this tournament.”
“It’s good to be where we are,” Girouard said. “Losing that first game put us in a spot that it was either win five or we’re done. It put the season on a line, and we kind of had the ‘so what’ attitude; we were going to come back. We had confidence, but it was a good confidence. Nobody panicked.”
The Houston regional is paired with the Baton Rouge regional, where LSU is the No. 2 national seed, for the super regional round. LSU has No. 2 seed UNC-Wilmington, No. 3 Tulane and No. 4 Lehigh in its regional.