Seeing a Louisiana college baseball team other than LSU in the post-season is not uncommon. Per capita, the state produces as much baseball talent as the fertile states of Florida and California.
Finding a Louisiana school at an LSU-hosted NCAA Regional is not altogether odd either. Back in the days of six team regionals, you were likely to find one or two schools in Baton Rouge hoping to pull off the upset against the Tigers for a trip to the College World Series.
But for the first time ever, there will be an all-Louisiana NCAA Regional when LSU hosts UL-Lafayette, Southern and Tulane at Alex Box. Making the pairings all the more interesting is the fact that the three visiting schools own a combined 3-2 record against LSU this season.
UL-Lafayette took both games in their home-and-home series with the Tigers, and Tulane is a year removed from beating LSU in the Super Regional at Zephyr Field in Metairie.
And although they lost to LSU in their only regular season meeting, the Southern Jaguars boast perhaps the strongest team in school history and have one of the best win-loss records in the nation.
If the intra-state rivalries are not enough to draw interest to Alex Box Stadium over the upcoming weekend, the fact that high caliber baseball will be on display should do the trick.
The following is a commentary breakdown of the three visiting teams at the Baton Rouge Regional by seeding:
4. Southern (45-8)
SWAC Tournament Champions
If Southern head baseball coach Roger Cador coached anywhere else in America, he would likely have earned far greater notoriety. For most of his career, he has had the misfortune of coaching in the same city as the legendary Skip Bertman and spent much of that time in the Miami native's shadow.
While Bertman was building LSU into what would become the program of the 90s, Cador toiled in obscurity in north Baton Rouge. The fruit of his labor is a team that regularly dominates the Southwestern Athletic Conference. A talented recruiter and well-versed baseball academician, Cador has regular put together the component parts of a machine that has chugged along into the post-season once again.
"I thought Southern would travel somewhere and be a 3-seed," said LSU head coach Smoke Laval. "That was my own ‘guesstimate.' I think they're very capable of being a 3-seed, but because of the distance and the other ball clubs, they're (the NCAA) putting in 48 wins at the 4-seed."
Perhaps with stronger athletic administration, Southern would be better recognized on the national scene. A sports information presence is virtually non-existent when it comes to baseball at the school, and official statistics are nearly impossible to obtain. Only through the efforts of local media have tabs been kept on the individual and team progress of the Jaguars.
This is no slight to Cador, who can take credit for the grassroots effort to get adequate lights installed at Southern's home field. The head coach has been a tireless advocate of his program off the field while leading it to success on the field.
The Southern strategy for success this season is deeply rooted in offense, as the Jaguars averaged better than eleven runs a game in the regular season. The team batting average following the SWAC Tournament was .383 with 91 homers, 36 triples and 124 doubles.
The main weapon in the SU arsenal has been sophomore second baseman Rickie Weeks. Even when considering the sometimes-weak competition within the SWAC, the numbers Weeks has posted in 2002 are still mind-blowing.
Following the SWAC Tournament, Weeks was hitting .500 and tied for the team lead in home runs with 19. He leads the Jaguars in triples (12), RBIs (94) and runs scored (80). In his freshman season, he hit .422 with 14 homers, 12 triples, 70 RBIs, 78 runs and 28 stolen bases.
Between those seasons, Weeks played abroad with the USA baseball team and has been invited to try out for the squad again this summer.
Weeks, a native of Altamonte Springs, Fla., was 2-for-4 with a run scored against LSU in the regular season game between the cross-town schools. The Tigers enjoyed a comfortable 13-2 win over the Jaguars, but Laval doesn't expect to see the same team on the field when they meet again in the opening game of the regional at 2 p.m. Friday.
"What happened earlier in the year is we just jumped out early," said Laval. "Roger was just checking some lineups out. They knew they already had the SWAC wrapped up, so he was just giving some pitchers some time to see if they could pitch."
While Weeks and the offense have made headlines, Southern's pitching has often been the difference in games in the high-scoring SWAC.
The starting foursome of Joshua Kirk, Corey Poret, Josef Rankin and Eric Thomas were 30-2 combined following the conference tournament. Poret, a transfer from Indiana, is the only left-hander in the group.
The bullpen has also been strong for the Jaguars in 2002. Antywna Beasley, Paul Nigro, Carl Primus, Geber Urbina and Damian Ursin have yet to earn a loss this season, and the ERAs in the group range from 0.87 to 4.24.
- Statistical information courtesy of The Advocate
LSU vs. Southern
2002: LSU, 13-2 at Alex Box (March 16)
Postseason: LSU leads 1-0
All-time: LSU leads 37-1
3. Tulane (35-25)
5th Place – Conference USA
The 2002 Tulane is not the same team that took two out of three games from LSU in the NCAA Super Regional last season. But there are enough elements remaining from that squad to provide a stiff challenge this weekend - especially when you throw in the probable hype that will surround a rematch with the Tigers.
The Green Wave heads into its 7 p.m. Friday matchup with UL-Lafayette having won 22 of its last 32 contests. They were one of five teams from Conference USA to make the NCAA field of 64, just getting in as an at-large selection after a fifth place finish in league standings and a 2-2 outing at the CUSA Tournament.
"I'm excited for our guys and proud of our effort down the stretch," head coach Rick Jones said. "It keeps our postseason streak alive, and we're looking forward to the challenge."
Tulane goes into the postseason with a .304 batting average and a .461 slugging percentage. The leader at the plate for the Green Wave has been senior infielder James Jurries, the 2002 Conference USA Player of the Year, who is tops on the team in batting average (.408), slugging percentage (.776), home runs (20) and RBI (74). He is second in stolen bases (29).
Jon Kaplan, a junior centerfielder, is second on the team in hitting with a .343 average and leads the club with 30 stolen bases. Next in the statistics is Aaron Feldman with a .330 batting average, eleven doubles, two triples and three homers.
The Tulane pitching staff has a 5.00 ERA after the CUSA Tournament. First-team All-Conference USA selection Nick Bourgeois is tops on the team with a 10-2 record and a 3.15 ERA.
The junior lefty is also the best of the team in terms of opponent batting average (.218), wins (10), innings pitched (108.2) and strikeouts (108). He did not face LSU during the 2002 season but earned the win in game two of last year's NCAA Super Regional against the Tigers.
Sophomore left-hander Joey Charron is the first man out of the bullpen for Tulane and saw action in both games against LSU this season, earning the third of his nine saves (tops in CUSA) for the season in the Green Wave's 6-5 win at Alex Box Stadium on March 5.
For Tulane, this is the 14th trip to an NCAA Regional in school history and the seventh under Jones. The Green Wave advanced to the College World Series for the first time in 2001.
LSU vs. Tulane
2002: Tulane, 6-5 at Alex Box (March 5)
LSU, 9-5 at the La. Superdome (April 10)
Postseason: LSU leads 4-2
All-time: LSU leads 152-115-3
2. UL-Lafayette (37-21)
The final record for UL-Lafayette, the second place team in the Sun Belt Conference, was not much of an eye-raiser when compared to the numerous teams with 40-plus wins under consideration for NCAA Tournament's field of 64.
But what earned the Ragin' Cajuns at at-large bid to the Baton Rouge NCAA Regional was their respectable schedule. In addition to its conference foes, ULL faced eleven teams in the regular season that would go on earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament – including four No.1 regional seeds – and posted a 12-9 mark against those squads.
This will be UL-Lafayette's fifth NCAA Regional appearance in the last six years and the program's ninth NCAA Regional overall. The Cajuns have hade four postseason appearances at LSU.
ULL is one of four teams from the Sun Belt to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. South Alabama, the No. 1 seed at the regional hosted by Notre Dame, is making its eighth straight appearance in the postseason tournament and 21st overall.
Florida International has been in the last six NCAA Tournaments and eight total, while New Mexico State, by virtue of winning the SBC Tournament, makes its first foray into the post-season classic.
At the helm of the Aggies is Gary Ward, who took Oklahoma State to the NCAAs 17 times including 16 in a row from 1981-96. Ten of those teams advanced to the College World Series, with the 1981, 1987 and 1990 squads finishing as national runners-up.
The last time ULL played in the postseason at Alex Box Stadium, they fell to the team they will meet Friday at 7 p.m. Tulane beat the school formerly known as Southwestern Louisiana, 11-5, in 1998, and LSU went on to eliminate the Cajuns, 15-6, and eventually advance to the College World Series.
This year's version of the Cajuns features a strong one-two pitching punch and an offense that likes to stay active on the base paths. As a team, ULL has swiped 142 bags this season.
By looking at their records and statistics, starting pitchers Andy Gros and Justin Gabriel appear interchangeable on the mound. Gros, a senior left-hander from Morgan City, leads the team with a 10-4 record and a 2.79 ERA.
He has totaled 109 strikeouts in 2002 - one better than Gabriel, a senior lefty from Seattle with a 9-4 record and 2.89 ERA.
It was Gabriel who threw a complete game in the Cajuns' 2-1 win at LSU on March 12. He allowed just seven hits in the game decided by Jason Wilson's RBI single in the top of the ninth.
Gros outdid his teammate a week later in the Cajuns' 7-0 victory at C.L. "Tigue" Moore Field in Lafayette. In a complete-game shutout, he struck out seven while allowing seven hits with no walks.
Chase Lambin is the top power hitter for UL-Lafayette with a .550 slugging percentage, including 13 homers, 16 doubles and 47 RBI.
The Cajuns leading hitter also contributes on the mound. Outfielder Corey Coles, a sophomore from Lafayette, is the only ULL player hitting over .300 (.366) and leads the team in hits (79) and stolen bases (22) and second in RBI. He was 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBI in ULL's second win over LSU.
As a pitcher, the right-handed Coles is 5-1 in five starts with a 2.35 ERA and two saves in his 13 appearances.
The top bullpen worker for the Cajuns is Kevin Ardoin, a freshman righty from Eunice with six saves to hit credit.
LSU vs. UL-Lafayette
2002: ULL, 2-1 at Alex Box (March 12)
ULL, 7-0 at Lafayette (March 19)
Postseason: LSU leads 3-0All-time: LSU leads 41-20