Eyes on area schools as baseball conference tournaments begin
As college baseball’s version of Championship Week gets into full swing Wednesday, we’ve already seen a change of fortune on some local fronts.
As the SEC and American Athletic Conference began Tuesday, LSU was knocked out in the single-elimination round with a 4-1 loss to Georgia and Tulane righted its ship for the moment with an opening-round victory over Houston by the same 4-1 score.
It will be a long five days for Paul Mainieri’s Tigers waiting for Selection Monday, to see if they’ve done enough to land in the NCAA’s field of 64. The good is a No. 24 RPI; the not-so-good is a 34-22 overall record, 13-18 record against SEC schools and a ninth-place finish in the 14-team league.
At this point, the problem isn’t what the Tigers have done. It’s the fact that others can, in poker parlance, draw more cards while LSU has already laid down its hand.
Alabama, for instance, is among BA’s “first four out” and D1Baseball’s “first five out,” but the Crimson Tide’s victory over South Carolina on Tuesday moves them into the double-elimination portion of the bracket.
Baseball America’s updated bracket after Tuesday’s games still has LSU among the “last four in.” (Interestingly, their projection sends the Tigers to South Bend, Indiana, as a No. 3 seed to face Mainieri’s former club, Notre Dame.)
The other factor to watch are some of the leagues that have a regular-season champion worthy of an at-large bid who may fail to win the conference tournament.
Like, for instance, The American.
Regular-season champion East Carolina was not only beaten, but run-ruled in the opening round on Tuesday against last-place finisher Memphis.
Tulane, in fact, was the only higher seed to win in the first round, as its bats came alive late against first-team all-conference pitcher Robert Gasser to defeat Houston.
The Green Wave was in the at-large discussion until a season-ending four-game sweep at Cincinnati, which not only took Tulane out of the hunt for the American’s regular-season title, but dropped its RPI to No. 77 – certainly out of at-large range – entering tournament week.
Now, the two teams who handled Tulane the easiest in the regular season, ECU and Cincinnati, are poised to meet in a loser-goes-home game on Wednesday, while the Wave takes the day off and has No. 1 starter Braden Olthoff ready for the “marble game” in its half of the bracket against USF Thursday night.
Action starts Wednesday at the Conference USA tournament in Ruston, where four teams are postseason locks – Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Charlotte and Old Dominion – and one or more schools could either host (LA Tech, USM and Charlotte are on the list of 20 possible hosts) and/or be No. 1 seeds (Baseball America projected ODU as a No. 1 seed at South Carolina).
The action also gets underway Wednesday at the Southland Conference tournament in Hammond, where like most of the tournaments, there are two distinct double-elimination brackets feeding into a one-game, made-for-TV final.
And just like what happened to the Southland in men’s basketball in March, one bracket is all Louisiana and the other is all Texas, assuring that an in-state school will reach the final.
On the Louisiana side, the University of New Orleans, the No. 2 seed, takes on McNeese at 4 p.m., while host Southeastern meets Northwestern at 7.
The Southland is clearly a one-bid league at this point. SLU could have flirted with at-large territory but stumbled down the stretch. The Lions’ advantage this week comes from a home field and home crowd.
The Sun Belt Conference, which began Tuesday in Montgomery, Alabama, is using four three-team pods, a format the ACC has adopted. Louisiana, the West Division champion, opens play Wednesday night. If three teams all finish 1-1, the tiebreaker is highest seed, which gives the Cajuns a big advantage in its quest to reach the single-elimination semifinals on Saturday.
We already know Southern is in the field after stunning Jackson State to win the SWAC title on Sunday and LA Tech is a virtual lock as an at-large, so it’s possible the state could see as many as six teams in the field of 64 if the Tigers, Green Wave, Ragin’ Cajuns and a Louisiana school winning the Southland could join the party.
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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;…