NEW ORLEANS – A Sun Belt Conference record-tying four baseball teams were selected to an NCAA Regional and those four teams are prepped and ready for competition.
The Florida Atlantic Owls, Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, South Alabama Jaguars and Troy Trojans set goals in the spring to compete amongst the 60 other clubs in the 2013 NCAA Baseball Tournament for the right to play in the 67th Men’s College World Series. Those four teams get their shot beginning Friday, May 31 as action gets underway across the country at the 16 regional sites.
FAU (39-20), the SBC Tournament Champion, have caught fire over the last several weeks, winning its final 11 games to sweep through the Sun Belt Championship, claiming the program's first-ever SBC tournament title. Freshman and SBC Tournament Most Outstanding Player, Brendon Sanger (.373/.450/.519) provided a huge spark when he forced his way into the FAU lineup in the first month of the season, and went on to lead the team in hitting.
The Owls led the SBC in team ERA led by a starting rotation that features three of the best in the SBC - Austin Gomber, Jeremy Strawn and Jake Meiers. Fifth-year senior, Hugh Adams, is an experienced closer with 17 saves on the season. Adams is the SBC all-time saves leader (30).
FAU takes on Towson in its first game of the regional. On March 8, the Towson program was to be cut, but just a month later those plans were halted allowing the team to continue its program and is playing in a regional for the first time since 1991 after winning the Colonial Athletic Association championship.
Should the Owls defeat Towson, their likely opponent would be the top overall seed, North Carolina Tar Heels (52-8), who are making their 28th appearance in the NCAA Regionals.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (41-18), one of the top hitting teams in the country, faces off against Sam Houston State (37-20) on Friday, May 31 at 7 p.m. CT. The Cajuns, making their 13th appearance to the NCAA regional, lead the nation in home runs (72) and slugging percentage (.513) and rank third in batting average (.323).
Dex Kjerstad leads the Cajuns and is 11th in the NCAA in hitting with a .398 batting average. The transfer from Texas is sixth in the NCAA in hits with 94 and has 12 home runs and 43 RBI. The Cajuns have a balanced attack as nine hitters with 30 or more starts have more than 30 RBI. Caleb Adams leads the Cajuns in both home runs (14) and RBI (51).
Austin Robichaux and Ryan Wilson are the unquestioned leaders on the hill doting 3.20 and 3.35 ERAs, respectively. Matt Hicks leads the Cajun bullpen with a 4.65 ERA and 10 saves on the season. The 453 runs scored by the Cajuns are the most runs scored since 2010.
The Cajuns lead the all-time series with the Bearkats, 7-1, and the last time the two teams played was in 2005. SHSU received its second consecutive at-large bid to the NCAA Regionals despite a short-lived stint at the Southland Conference tournament last week. The Bearkats did win the SLC regular season crown and enter the tournament with an RPI of 47.
A win by the Cajuns would setup a potential winner’s bracket game with LSU, the fourth overall seed in the tournament. LSU and the Cajuns met earlier this season (Feb. 26) with the Tigers coming away victorious, 11-2. The last time the two teams met in the postseason was in the Baton Rouge Regional in 2002.
The Jaguars of South Alabama (42-18) make the trek north to Starkville, Miss. as they begin regional action against Mercer (43-16) on Friday at 2 p.m. CT. Mercer won the Atlantic Sun regular-season championship with a 20-7 league record and earned an at-large bid to the NCAAs. The Bears were upset in the A-Sun tournament by East Tennessee State and USC Upstate last week.
USA, led by SBC Player of the Year, Jordan Patterson, and Ron Maestri Coach of the Year, Mark Calvi, owns a 6-2 lifetime record against the Bears defeating Mercer at Stanky Field to open the season in 2009. Patterson led the Jags with a .360 average, 67 runs scored and 49 RBI. The 6’5” junior also made 12 appearances on the hill for the Jags picking up two saves in 12.2 innings of relief work.
The SBC regular season co-champion Jags will be making their 25th overall appearance to the tournament and first since 2006. Should the top two seeds advance it would setup a rematch between regional host Mississippi State and the Jags. USA fell to the Bulldogs, 6-4, back on April 2, in a game hosted by the Jaguars.
Another rematch from earlier this season features the Troy Trojans and Alabama Crimson Tide. Troy (40-18), playing in the Tallahassee Regional hosted by Florida State, the seventh overall seed in the tournament, will be the No. 3 seed and will battle the second-seeded Tide on Friday at 11 a.m. CT. Friday’s game will be broadcast by ESPNU in addition to ESPN3.com.
SBC regular season co-champion Troy and Alabama met back on May 8 with the Tide coming out on top, 11-2. Troy is led by middle-of-the-lineup hitters Logan Pierce, Danny Collins and Trae Santos, who have combined for 195 RBIs of the teams 423 runs scored. Collins leads the SBC in RBIs (67) with Santos (66) and Pierce (62) ranking second and third, respectively.
The Tide (34-26) are coming off a 2-2 finish in the 2013 SEC Tournament that included wins over Auburn (6-3) and Mississippi (7-5) and a pair of losses to LSU (3-0 and 3-2). Alabama is led by freshman shortstop Mikey White who has been the hottest hitter for the Tide over the last two months of the season, and now leads the club with a .286 average.
SBC Pitcher of the Year, Shane McCain, and Tanner Hicks lead the Trojan pitching staff. Hicks and McCain each have posted eight wins on the season to lead the league. McCain is third in the league with 99 strikeouts.
A win by Troy and a win by FSU would pit the two teams against each other in a Saturday match-up. The Trojans and Seminoles have faced each other a total of 15 times over the years with the Seminoles holding a 13-2 record during that stretch. The last time the two teams faced-off was in 1999.
All games of the 2013 NCAA Baseball Regional will be broadcast via the ESPN family of networks. Action can be viewed on ESPN3.com.
Chapel Hill Regional hosted by North Carolina
#1 North Carolina (52-8) vs. #4 Canisius (42-15), 5 p.m., ESPN3
#2 Florida Atlantic (39-20) vs. #3 Towson (29-28), 12 p.m., ESPN3
Baton Rouge Regional hosted by LSU
#1 LSU (52-9) vs. #4 Jackson State (34-20), 2 p.m., ESPN3
#2 Louisiana-Lafayette (41-18) vs. #3 Sam Houston St. (37-20), 7 p.m., ESPN3
Starkville Regional hosted by Mississippi State
#1 Mississippi State (43-17) vs. #4 Central Arkansas (39-20), 7 p.m., ESPN3
#2 South Alabama (42-18) vs. #3 Mercer (43-16), 2 p.m., ESPN3
Tallahassee Regional hosted by Florida State
#1 Florida State (44-15) vs. #4 Savannah State (33-21), 4 p.m., ESPN3
#2 Alabama (34-26) vs. #3 Troy (40-18), 11 a.m., ESPNU/ ESPN3