No. 3 San Diego State (42-20, MWC Champion) vs. No. 1 Louisiana-Lafayette (53-8, Sun Belt Champion)
When: Saturday, June 1, 1 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. PT
Where: M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field, Lafayette, Louisiana
Radio: ESPN San Diego 1700
Yesterday the San Diego State Aztecs clashed with Mississippi State. The Aztec bats couldn't solve the riddles thrown by Mississippi State pitchers all afternoon and lost 5-2. Consequently, SDSU plays against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns tomorrow in the losers' bracket of the Lafayette regional.
Believe me, you're just as surprised as we all are that the Ragin' Cajuns are in the losers' bracket. The No.1 team in the country at season's end. The overall No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Yeah, they lost 1-0 yesterday to the Jackson State Tigers. Jackson State now becomes the Cinderella sweetheart of the NCAA Tournament--the Tigers had the third-worst conference record in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and won the SWAC Tournament as the SWAC East's four-seed.
The Aztecs have big bats, with a .289 team batting average and 25 homers in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark. But their bats--and most bats in the entire country, for that matter--don't match those of the Ragin' Cajuns.
Louisiana-Lafayette ranks in the country's top three in hits, runs, home runs, batting average, doubles, slugging percentage and triples. The Ragin' Cajuns lead the nation in average win margin with a +4.1-run win margin. Put another way, Louisiana-Lafayette is full of scary-good hitters.
The two teams are pretty equal in pitching, though: SDSU ended the year with a 3.70 ERA and Louisiana-Lafayette ended with a 3.43 ERA. The Aztecs struck out 408 batters and the Ragin' Cajuns struck out 426. Not much difference on the mound.
Aztec to watch: The starting pitcher. I made a mistake yesterday in assuming Bubba Derby would start today for the Aztecs--Mark Seyler started instead. But with the season on the line, I can't see Interim Head Coach Mark Martinez starting anybody but his ace, Bubba Derby. The Ragin' Cajuns likely haven't seen many pitchers like Derby this season as they play in a weak Sun Belt Conference. Derby finished the year with an 8-3 record, 2.69 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 103.2 innings pitched. Louisiana-Lafayette beats teams--and it beat a heck-of-a-lot of teams this year--with hitting. If Derby can level the playing field by cooling down the Ragin' Cajuns' bats, the Aztecs are good enough to send the country's No. 1 team home.
Key of the game: Make the easy plays. SDSU did it all year, finishing the year with the MWC-leading .973 fielding percentage. The Aztecs are especially strong up the middle with shortstop Evan Potter and second baseman Tim Zier. Unfortunately, an error yesterday led to SDSU's downfall against Mississippi State. In the bottom of the second, the normally stellar Potter threw an errant throw to second that would have ended the inning. Three batters later, outfielder Jake Vickerson hit a three-run triple, and SDSU ultimately lost 5-2. Four of the runs were unearned. Derby could very well shut down the Louisiana-Lafayette hitters if his teammates record all the outs they should record.
Prediction: Derby's been reliable all year. I'm calling an upset. SDSU 6 LA-Lafayette 4