HAMMOND — Southeastern Louisiana baseball coach Matt Riser didn’t want to have an official watch party for the NCAA tournament selection show.
Not after what happened last season.
A year ago, the Lions were devastated when they were left out of the field of 64 despite having the best season in program history. So, instead of having a big party with fans while again sitting squarely on the bubble, Riser decided it was best to hold a small team party so the Lions could celebrate — or mourn — together.
But Riser might be regretting his decision: When the Lions landed a spot in the Baton Rouge regional as the No. 3 seed Monday morning, the coach ended up getting dunked in the pool by his players.
“It’s another step for our program,” Riser said. “It’s the first at-large bid we’ve gotten, and we’re excited about it. We finally broke through that ice after so many years right there on the brink.”
Southeastern, which the NCAA said was one of the final three schools to make the 64-team field, is set to play Rice at 7 p.m. Friday at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium, the program’s second postseason appearance in three years under Riser. This is the fourth regional appearance for the program and its first at-large bid.
It has arguably been the most successful run in school history, and the Lions are feeling confident after an impressive run to the Southland Conference tournament championship game, where they lost to Sam Houston State.
While nervous after being left out last season, Riser said he felt good about the Lions’ chances of making the tournament thanks to a more aggressive scheduling strategy.
The Lions went 18-14 against teams in the top 100 of the RPI and 7-8 against teams in the top 50, including a pair of wins against No. 29 Tulane and wins against No. 18 Southern Miss and No. 15 Louisiana-Lafayette.
Last season, Southeastern had only one win against a team in the RPI’s top 50.
But even though the Lions’ résumé has never looked better, the memory of last season was constantly in the back of Riser’s mind.
“If you looked at the basic résumé, if you looked at the RPI, if you looked at the wins and the quality of wins and the nonconference strength of schedule — all of the kit and caboodle — I felt really good about it if we had never been in that situation,” Riser said. “But we have been in this situation many times and have been left out, so it was honestly a nerve-racking night.”
On April 20, the Lions made the trip down Interstate 12 and took an 11-4 loss to LSU. Riser called the game “embarrassing” at the time and said the Lions weren’t ready for the big stage.
The rest of the season was bumpy, but a strong showing in the Southland tournament after some late-season struggles has Southeastern rebuilding its confidence heading into regional play.
“I think we’re prepared from that standpoint because we’ve been doing it all year long,” Riser said. “It’s been a lot of big stages, a lot of big games, and we’ve played in a lot of big venues throughout the season. We’ve set ourselves up from a scheduling standpoint to be ready.”