The Grind-Lafayette Regional Preview #OneMooreWeek [VIDEO]
Even though the NCAA isn't going to let you drink beer in the stadium, there's going to be another week of baseball at M.L. Tigue Moore Field...possibly two Moore weeks...
Matt Deggs and Lance Harvell are coming back to Lafayette with a maturing Sam Houston State squad, Princeton is here fresh off an Ivy League Championship, and Arizona and the rest of the west will carry a heavy chip on their shoulder after not getting awarded a regional. Sound like fun? I thought so.
The hottest team in the Lafayette Regional is still the Ragin' Cajuns. Ten straight wins and three straight Sun Belt Championships provide the perfect seasoning for the Cajuns' boiling pot of momentum. Time to cook.
Heading into the field of 64, the Cajuns are catching full stride. Good timing, guys. Let's look back at that glorious, dramatic Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
LOOKING BACK: ANOTHER SUN BELT CHAMPIONSHIP
The tournament started off with a throwdown. Gunner Leger threw 100 pitches in five innings, setting a new career strikeout mark with 10 K's. He handed the ball over with a 4-3 lead, but Arkansas State homered off Jevin Huval to tie things back up. From that point on, it was the Eric Carter Show.
Carter struck out nine of the twelve batters he faced, and he didn't allow a single hit. The staff set the tone with 20 total strikeouts, and a senior provided the pivotal hit. Kyle Clement came through with a three run homer late in the game to seal the 7-4 victory, then it was on to the second round.
Nick Lee held down the fort for seven innings against Texas State, who were playing in front of their home crowd in San Marcos. The freshman buckled down and only allowed two runs off five hits, but the run support didn't come until Dylan Moore already had the ball. The Cajuns threw four runs on the board in the final two innings for the 4-2 victory, but they made the fans sweat it out a bit.
If you were nervous during Game Two, you were probably sweating buckets after the first inning of the semifinal rematch with Arkansas State.
A-State popped off six runs in the first inning, and Evan Guillory got chased off the mound without retiring a single batter. Things didn't look good, but the Cajuns came back with a vengeance.
Five runs in the third, four in the fourth, and four more in the fifth gave the Cajuns the lead and every ounce of momentum. Huval was credited with the victory, which was nice to see after his outing in the first game of the tournament, and Carter came out of the bullpen to pitch four more innings of superb baseball.
In the 17-10 route, the Cajuns racked up 17 hits from eight different players. Nick Thurman led the way with five RBI, but he wasn't done yet.
The championship game was a gift wrapped present to Cajun fans. It might not have been a perfect game, but it was close.
Wyatt Marks was on two weeks rest, and he pitched like a starved wolf. He tore into Georgia Southern's lineup for ten strikeouts in seven strong innings, then Dylan Moore finished off the 5-0 shutout in style. Neither Moore or Marks surrendered a single walk, and their dominant performance on the mound was complimented by timely hitting from three seniors.
Brian Mills and Joe Robbins drove in the first two runs of the game, then Nick Thurman hit a bomb in the 8th inning to ice the game. Speaking of ice, the team hit Coach Robe with an ice bath after winning his third straight championship, and they dogpiled on the field.
Any guess who your Grinder of the Week is? Here's a hint, he could technically be the Grinder of the Year...
GRINDER OF THE WEEK: NICK THURMAN
You know the story by now: senior catcher, caught every pitch of every game, handles a young pitching staff...it's the stuff of fantasy. He keeps adding to his Iron Man-like tale, and the Sun Belt Tournament might have been the best chapter.
Thurm is a trooper. He doesn't receive enough credit for the load he carries for the Ragin' Cajuns, but the Sun Belt recognized him as the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Tony Robichaux said it "watered him up" because of everything Thurman did for the team this season, but his seven RBI in the final two games of the tournament spoke loud enough to get him the nod.
They don't make many like Nick Thurman. His skin's thicker than a rhino's, and he's as dependable as the morning rooster. This Grinder of the Week felt good, but ice those legs down, Thurm. We got more games to win.
LAFAYETTE REGIONAL: PRINCETON, ARIZONA & SAM HOUSTON STATE
We just can't get rid of Matt Deggs, can we? He and Lance Harvell went to continue their coaching career after the Cajuns with Sam Houston State, now they're back to give Coach Robe trouble.
Of course, both teams have to handle a little business first, if they want to have a little friendly throwdown at "The Tigue" for a shot a super-regional.
The Cajuns are the hottest team in the regional, but they face a Princeton team in their first game (7:00 first pitch, News Talk 96.5 KPEL and simulcasted on ESPN 1420) that has absolutely nothing to lose. A year ago, the Tigers had a 7-32 record. This year, they're the Ivy League Champs.
Nick Lee will get the start in Game One, and Princeton will most likely throw their ace, Chad Powers (6-3, 2.07 ERA). The idea is to let Lee go out there and get his first taste of NCAA Tournament baseball, with a chance to put his team in a great position to move one step closer to advancing.
After Lee gets his chance, Gunner Leger will pitch Game Two. That leaves Wyatt Marks, Evan Guillory and the rest of the bullpen for whatever might come next. With all the arms at Coach Robe's disposal, the pitching advantage should always be with the Cajuns.
Arizona had the highest RPI (#21) of the western teams, but nobody in the Pac 12 (really, anywhere west of Texas) got to host a regional. Instead, the Wildcats are coming to Lafayette, and the have to take on Deggs and Harvell's Sam Houston State team in their first game. Welcome to Lafayette, here's a punch in the mouth.
Arizona's top two arms are high-level guys, so they have the arsenal to make noise in the bracket...but again, they have to get past Sam Houston State first.
Deggs took over a team that needed some changes. In his first year at the helm, he took 26 new players to a Southland Conference Championship, and they won 35 of their final 43 games after starting the year 6-12. Apples don't all far from the coaching tree, and Deggs' Sam Houston State team grinds just like the Cajuns.
Sam Houston State is aggressive everywhere offensively. They have 78 stolen bases and over 100 doubles, so they will attack the base paths and the gaps, and there's enough pop on the lineup between Zach Smith (7 HR) and Andrew Fregia (8 HR) to change a game in a hurry.
Clearly, it's pick your poison between Arizona and Sam Houston State, and the Cajuns have to beat Princeton first, but wouldn't a Robe vs Deggs matchup with a trip to the super regionals on the line be baseball perfection? Cajun Nation might want to be careful what it wishes for, especially when it comes to Sam Houston State.
Hopefully, #OneMooreWeek can turn into #TwoMooreWeeks, but that's getting way too far ahead of ourselves. First, let's just enjoy another week of baseball out at "The Tigue," even if the NCAA is trying to take all the fun out of it.