It’s an agonizing point in the season for area college baseball and softball fans. When we should be excited about our teams, too many of us are worried.
With postseason play either looming (for baseball teams at LSU, Northwestern State, UL Lafayette, Grambling and Louisiana Tech) or nearly underway (at home at Tiger Park for LSU softball, hosting UL Lafayette), there’s drama.
The boys of Alex Box have been No. 1 in the country since preseason projections began last fall. Until recently, when injuries and underwhelming performances have left the Tigers desperately seeking pitching past Friday night ace Paul Skenes. He’s been lights out. Lately, the rest of the LSU staff has been lit up.
Every weekend, Skenes dominates opponents and helps a noble cause. On Feb. 8, he pledged a donation of $10 per strikeout to support Folds of Honor, a non-profit organization that provides scholarships to spouses and children of American military heroes. He has 152 Ks heading into the final weekend of the regular season, with the SEC Tournament and NCAA Regional competition assured.
No doubt his NIL and pending MLB Draft signing bonus will cover his tab. The former Air Force Academy All-American will probably spike his donation to Folds of Honor, and no doubt LSU fans will contribute generously as well.
It will soothe their frustration over a dream season faltering at its peak. Plans to storm Omaha are suddenly in doubt. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” said the baseball sage, Yogi Berra, and he’s been proven right countless times. (BTW, Berra DID storm Omaha – Beach. He took part in the D-Day Invasion on June 6, 1944 and initially turned down a Purple Heart after being grazed by a German bullet, because he didn’t want to alarm his mother back home in St. Louis.)
Conference tournaments are next week for LSU, NSU, UL Lafayette, Grambling and Tech. Under the radar, Grambling has won the Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division with a week left to play, owning a 20-6 record (25-24 overall). Alabama State (24-3 in the East) is the team to beat in the SWAC Tournament in Atlanta next week.
Northwestern (27-22 overall, 12-9 in the Southland) is third, but not eliminated from the championship race entering the final regular-season series at Southeastern. The Southland has no chance of an at-large NCAA bid this year and the tournament title is wide open next week in Lake Charles.
Tech baseball fans are perplexed to see the Bulldogs (26-27, 14-13) not battling for the Conference USA crown they were picked to win by league coaches in preseason. Losing their best hitter for the season before the first pitch hurt the ‘Diamond Dogs, and so did over-the-top expectations after two straight spectacular seasons and several key graduation departures.
A late surge in Lafayette has the Ragin’ Cajuns (35-18, 17-10) among the Sun Belt’s best, and combined with a stout non-conference schedule, UL Lafayette is in the conversation for an at-large NCAA regional invitation, if they don’t overcome top 10-ranked Coastal Carolina to win the SBC Tournament.
Not to overlook the LSU Tigers softball team in Baton Rouge, where to the consternation of some – most across the Atchafalaya Basin who are UL Lafayette loyalists – the Tigers host an NCAA regional, including the Ragin’ Cajuns, this weekend.
The teams split games in February, both winning on the road. So why do Cajun fans mind the 50-mile trip east? It will be entertaining, to say the least. And that’s just in the stands, and around Tiger Park. The tailgating fare will be just part of the spicy flavor heating things up.
Contact Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org