Cajun softball headed to Baton Rouge for NCAA opener

by Dan McDonald

The Ragin' Cajun softball team will begin its 23rd postseason journey in the past 24 years at a familiar location, headed to Baton Rouge for the NCAA Softball Championship regional round. With everything that's happened this season considered, the seeding for the UL softball team's action in the NCAA Division I Softball Championships couldn't be much better.

The Ragin' Cajuns will head only an hour east from home, playing in the Baton Rouge Regional along with host LSU, Northwestern State and Central Connecticut State beginning Friday at Tiger Park.

The Cajuns have the best record of the four teams in Baton Rouge at 43-13, and will open play against NSU's Demons (40-13) at 3 p.m. Friday. LSU (40-14) meets Central Connecticut (35-13) at 6 p.m. Friday in the opening round of the double-elimination meet.

"It's great for our fans," said Cajun coach Michael Lotief, "but for us, where the venue is doesn't matter. It's going to be filled with pressure, filled with excitement, and that usually brings out the best in us."

The Cajuns weren't going to host a regional as they did last year, after finishing third in the stronger-than-ever Sun Belt Conference and not making it to the league tournament title game. Losses to eventual tournament champ South Alabama (1-0, eight innings) and Western Kentucky (7-4, 10 innings after beating WKU in an earlier tourney game) in the tourney eliminated the chances of hosting regional play for a 10th time.

But they were virtual locks for a 15th straight NCAA Tournament berth and the 23rd in the last 24 years courtesy of their final No. 20 ranking in the final Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) listing.

The Cajuns also had a 40-win season for the 15th consecutive year and had won 22 straight games going into the Sun Belt Tournament, a streak that not by coincidence began when senior All-America shortstop Nerissa Myers returned to the lineup after a broken ankle sidelined her for five weeks. Since she returned, the Cajuns are 21-2.

"That's something you should never take for granted," Lotief said of the Sunday night bracket selection selection which the UL team gathered to watch at their Cajundome Drive complex.  "The first thing, it was an emotional relief and we were excited just to be in the tournament."

"This regional is a great location for our fans," said Myers. "It's like it was meant to be, since my freshman year we played the regional in Baton Rouge and won there, and now we're going back there for my senior year. That's pretty awesome."

The Cajuns didn't play any of the three teams during this season, but they will be playing in a familiar location. It'll be their sixth regional at LSU, and UL advanced in the NCAA Tournament the last two times they began postseason play in Baton Rouge making it to the Women's College World Series in 2008 and to the NCAA Super Regional in 2010.

"We're on the road, but it's not far," said senior first baseman Matte Haack. "We have the best fans in the country already, and they'll be able to follow us there easily. It doesn't matter what our record is or who we're playing ... we're not ready to be finished with the season."

"It's very important to be close to home," Lotief said. "It's a place that we can be comfortable."

NCAA Baton Rouge Regional

Friday, May 17
Game 1: UL vs. Northwestern State 3 p.m. 
Game 2: No. 9 LSU vs. Central Connecticut State 6 p.m.

Saturday, May 18
Game 3: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner noon
Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser 3 p.m.
Game 5: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner 6 p.m.

Sunday, May 17
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner 1 p.m.
Game 7: Game 6 rematch if necessary 4 p.m.

2013 NCAA Softball Championships

Norman Regional May 17-19 at Norman, Okla.
No. 1 seed Oklahoma* (47-4) vs. Marist (30-24)
Fordham (35-21) vs. Arkansas (34-18)

College Station Regional May 17-19 at College Station, Texas
Baylor (39-15) vs. Arizona (32-24)
Penn (30-18) vs. No. 16 seed Texas A&M* (39-15)

Baton Rouge Regional May 17-19 at Baton Rouge
No. 9 seed LSU* (40-14) vs. Central Connecticut State (35-13)
Northwestern State (40-13) vs.UL (43-13)

Ann Arbor Regional May 17-19 at Ann Arbor, Mich.
California (36-17) vs. Central Michigan (33-18)
Valparaiso (34-25) vs. No. 8 seed Michigan* (45-10)

Tempe Regional May 17-19 at Tempe, Ariz.
No. 5 seed Arizona State* (45-10) vs. San Jose State (42-15)
Georgia (38-19) vs. San Diego State (35-18)

Lexington Regional May 17-19 at Lexington, Ky.
Notre Dame (43-13) vs. Virginia Tech (35-19)
Marshall (35-20) vs. No. 12 seed Kentucky* (38-18)

Mobile Regional May 17-19 at Mobile, Ala.
No. 13 seed South Alabama* (45-7) vs. Mississippi Valley (24-26)
Mississippi State (32-22) vs. Florida State (41-16)

Austin Regional May 17-19 at Austin, Texas
Houston (40-18) vs. South Carolina (32-23)
Army (35-24) vs. No 4 seed Texas* (44-8)

Eugene Regional May 16-18 at Eugene, Ore.
No. 3 seed Oregon* (46-9) vs. BYU (33-20)
North Carolina (39-19) vs. Wisconsin (42-11)

Lincoln Regional May 17-19 at Lincoln, Neb.
Stanford (37-19) vs. Tulsa (42-14)
UNI (26-24) vs. No. 14 seed Nebraska* (40-13)

Washington Regional May 17-19 at Seattle, Wash.
No. 11 seed Washington (38-15) vs. Portland State (25-29)
Minnesota (35-17) vs. Hawaii (43-11)

Columbia Regional May 17-19 at Columbia, Mo.
Hofstra (43-11) vs. Oregon State (33-22)
Stony Brook (35-23) vs. No. 6 seed Missouri* (35-11)

Knoxville Regional May 17-19 at Knoxville, Tenn.
No. 7 seed Tennessee* (44-10) vs. Longwood (35-17)
James Madison (41-15) vs. North Carolina State (33-18)

Tuscaloosa Regional May 17-19 at Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Western Kentucky (41-16) vs. S.C. Upstate (41-10)
Jacksonville State (30-25) vs. No. 10 seed Alabama* (42-13)

Louisville Regional May 17-19 at Louisville, Ky.
No. 15 seed Louisville* (46-11) vs. IPFW (32-14)
UAB (37-16) vs. UCLA (37-18)

Gainesville Regional May 17-19 at Gainesville, Fla.
South Florida (43-14) vs. Georgia Southern (32-28)
Hampton (33-24) vs. No. 2 seed Florida* (52-7)

* Indicates host institution