LAFAYETTE SUPER REGIONAL: Ole Miss Rebels at Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET; Sunday, 9 p.m. ET; Monday, 7 p.m. ET (if necessary) || ESPN2
For those of us more accustomed to football, it might be a little bit odd to see a Sun Belt team as the consensus No. 1 in a sport. And there are some reasons to be dubious about Louisiana-Lafayette's place atop the college baseball world. The Ragin' Cajuns have the 103rd-best strength of schedule, according to Warren Nolan's RPI calculations. The Sun Belt in baseball is not that much better than the Sun Belt in football. And, as we've noted before, there are not that many truly elite teams in college baseball this year; Lousiana-Lafayette has to some extent gotten its pace at No. 1 by default.
But it would be a mistake to write the Cajuns' ranking off as completely unearned. Regardless of the competition, a 57-8 record through the regionals is impressive. No one else in the sport has even 50 wins yet. Louisiana-Lafayette beat LSU this year and took two of three from Alabama in the earlier part of the season, also known as "when Alabama plays decent baseball." After a narrow, 1-0 loss against Jackson State in the first game of the Lafayette Regional, the Cajuns swept through the rest of the field, beating Mississippi State in two games while scoring a combined 19 runs against the Bulldogs.
And that offense -- wow. Eight regular Cajun starters are hitting .300 or better. Five have an on-base percentage of greater than .400 (including one of the players who checks in just a spot under .300 in batting average). Two batters boast an OPS higher than 1.000 -- Caleb Adams (1.198) and Jace Conrad (1.037). The team has a total of 66 home runs. Someone forgot to tell Lousiana-Lafayette that they're supposed to use BBCOR bats now. The pitching isn't quite as impressive, but it's still very good. Austin Robichaux, the starter tonight, has a 2.83 ERA and has struck out 76 batters in 82.2 innings. The other likely starters in a three-game series are also solid.
No team in college baseball is unbeatable this year -- the first weekend proved that when several of the regional hosts went down. It's not laughable to think that Ole Miss can win this Super Regional. But if they take Louisana-Lafayette likely, they will likely end up with the same defeats that the Cajuns have dished out to so many teams this year.