Tigers, Cajuns, Bulldogs still with at-large hopes as baseball season hits home stretch
With two weeks left in the college baseball season – for most, a final week of the regular season and conference tournaments next week – three Louisiana schools are sitting firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble while the others are looking for a strong finish that could land an automatic berth.
LSU, UL Lafayette and Louisiana Tech all sit between 47 and 57 in the latest RPI – perfectly in bubble range.
LSU – in what Paul Mainieri called a must win – defeated Alabama 7-3 on Sunday to take two of three games in the series and takes an RPI of 50 into this week.
The Tigers (31-21 overall, 14-13 in SEC play) have four regular season games left – their home finale Tuesday night against Northwestern State and a three-game SEC series at Auburn – before heading to the conference tournament next week in Hoover, Alabama.
Despite the strength of an SEC schedule, LSU’s RPI has lagged because of the Tigers’ inability to win on the road. Mainieri’s club has won just three of 16 games away from Alex Box Stadium this spring, and the RPI formula is weighted to reward winning on the road nearly twice as much as winning at home.
If the Tigers can win the series at Auburn, they would be a virtual lock for an at-large. Anything less would put even more emphasis on the conference tournament.
Louisiana Tech goes into the week with the state’s best RPI, at No. 47 (according to D1Baseball; Warren Nolan lists Tech at No. 48). The Bulldogs helped their NCAA at-large case immensely over the weekend by winning two of three at Conference USA leader Southern Miss, including an 8-3 victory Sunday.
The Bulldogs (35-18, 18-9 C-USA) do not play in the middle of the week and end the season with a three-game home series this weekend against league bottom-feeder Old Dominion.
Tech is percentage points behind Florida Atlantic for second place in the league, and both trail USM by 2 1/2 games. A strong finish by Tech, much like they did two years ago, could make Conference USA a three-bid league.
UL Lafayette dropped two of three games at Texas State this weekend – its first series loss in six weeks – and goes into the final week of the regular season with an RPI of 57.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (29-23, 15-12) are a half-game ahead of Little Rock in the Sun Belt’s West Division. Tony Robichaux’s club won’t have to leave the friendly confines of Russo Park the next two weeks, with four home games this week (Tulane Tuesday and UL Monroe Thursday-Saturday) and the conference tournament next week.
Coastal Carolina, which has clinched the overall regular-season title in the Sun Belt and has an RPI of 18, is the league’s only lock at this point. As many as four conference teams besides the Cajuns could be in the mix for an at-large spot with strong finishes over the last two weeks, which should make for an entertaining tournament.
Other teams around the state need to put together their best week of the season in conference tournament play.
Tulane will end up anywhere from the fifth through eighth seed in next week’s American Athletic Conference tournament in Clearwater, Florida, after winning two of three games over the weekend against Memphis.
In the Southland Conference, three Louisiana schools have wrapped up tournament berths – Southeastern, Northwestern State and McNeese – while New Orleans is in the driver’s seat to join them after a weekend sweep of Nicholls.
The Privateers – as a result of owning head-to-head tiebreakers over the two teams trying to catch them, Nicholls and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi – need just one win over Northwestern this weekend at home to clinch a tournament berth.
Southeastern, which has finished league play and hosts non-conference games this week against South Alabama (Tuesday) and Houston (Thursday-Friday), will almost certainly be the No. 2 seed in the league tournament, which begins May 23 in Sugar Land, Texas.
The Lions are playing their best baseball of late, winning road series against conference leader Sam Houston State and third-place Central Arkansas the last two weekends. Former Brother Martin standout Corey Gaconi has pitched complete games the last two Sundays.
Conference tournament play for state schools gets underway this Wednesday when the SWAC Tournament begins its annual run in New Orleans at the MLB Urban Youth Academy at Wesley Barrow Stadium.
Grambling is the No. 2 seed out of the Western Division and will face Mississippi Valley State at noon Wednesday. Texas Southern and Alabama State, who faced off in the championship game a year ago, are favored to meet up again as the top seeds out of each division.
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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…