BATON ROUGE, La. — The 2017 Baton Rouge NCAA softball regional at LSU’s Tiger Park is a decidedly Louisiana-flavored affair, and like anything that’s Louisiana-flavored, there is a bit of heat involved.
Host LSU is joined by two other schools from the state — No. 2 Louisiana-Lafayette and No. 3 McNeese State — as well as an interloper from Connecticut, fourth-seeded Fairfield. LSU opens with the Stags at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.
“I think it’s exciting [to have three Louisiana teams],” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “That means everyone will travel well. That’s what these things are supposed to be. They call them regionals. It’s supposed to be regional. It’s supposed to be exciting. It’s supposed to have atmosphere. It’s exciting that we get to do that.”
The Tigers are trying to reach their third straight Women’s College World Series, but moving on won’t be easy. ULL comes across the Atchafalaya Basin with a string of five straight super regional appearances. McNeese is capable of making noise, returning the bulk of a team that upset Arizona State in the opening round last year before falling to the Sun Devils in a 14-inning elimination game.
From a pure softball perspective, those details alone make for an interesting weekend. But the background intrigue between each school and their respective fanbases could have the stands feeling more like a European soccer match at times.
McNeese and ULL were arch-rivals for decades before the Ragin’ Cajuns moved up to the FBS level in football in the mid-1980s. The resentment in Lake Charles for the Cajuns still lingers even if the days of conference games against them are long dormant.
In Lafayette, the disdain is directed towards LSU. The basis of that fight is the Ragin’ Cajuns long battle to be known simply as the University of Louisiana, with LSU often seen as the biggest thorn in that rebranding.
In the case of softball, it’s not just fans who have hard feelings.
LSU and ULL have not played a game since the 2013 Baton Rouge regional, which was won by the Ragin’ Cajuns. To say the least, it’s a curiosity that a pair of perennial Women’s College World Series contenders just 50 miles apart elect not to face one another in the regular season.
“This will be the first time we would match up since I’ve been here,” LSU senior outfielder Bailey Landry said. “I think it will be a great matchup for the state and for the game.
“I guess it’s a little surprising [we haven’t played]. We’re in different conferences and that has a lot to do with it, and I know a lot of scheduling is done in advance. I guess we never just matched up. But I’m glad we have the opportunity to do so.”
When asked, Torina wouldn’t address why the Cajuns and Tigers haven’t played a game in the last four seasons.
“Right now my focus is truly on Fairfield,” Torina said. “That’s really been our effort and focus, is just our first opponent. Obviously we have information on our other opponents, but first we have to beat a solid team from a solid conference that’s done some really good things this year.
At some point this weekend, questions about LSU versus ULL may become impossible to avoid.
Meet LSU softball’s 2017 Baton Rouge regional opponents
No. 2 Louisiana-Lafayette (45-6)
Post-seasoned: The Ragin’ Cajuns have advanced to super regionals six times since 2010 and ended LSU’s season in 2010 and 2013.
Prodigious: ULL ranks in the Top 5 nationally in runs scored, batting average, slugging percentage and home runs.
That’s their DJ: Junior shortstop DJ Sanders is one of 10 finalists for the USA Softball Player of the Year. Sanders leads the nation with 28 home runs and 72 RBI coming into the postseason.
No. 3 McNeese State (42-16)
Not bad for a rookie: The Cowgirls have been victims of their own success, with coaches Mike Smith (Ole Miss) and Joanna Hardin (Virginia) moving up the ranks in recent years. First-year coach James Landreneau has kept the success going, though, leading McNeese to its fourth Southland title in the last five years.
Do I know you? LSU fans may see a familiar face in an unfamiliar uniform in former Tiger Baylee Corbello. The Moss Bluff, La. native transferred back home to play her final season. She is 11-3 with a 3.14 ERA in 91.1 innings and hitting .287 in 94 at-bats.
The Italian Stallion: Junior catcher Erika Piancastelli played for the Italian national team last summer. The two-time All-American is McNeese’s career leader in home runs, walks and RBI.
No. 4 Fairfield (26-26)
Where-field? Fairfield is a Jesuit university in Fairfield, Conn. — directly across Long Island Sound from Stony Brook, N.Y., a place that needs no introduction for LSU baseball fans.
Second time’s the charm? The Stags are making their second NCAA regional appearance as champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Fairfield was run-ruled in both games of the 2015 Tuscaloosa Regional, falling to Alabama (8-0) and South Carolina-Upstate (9-0).
Welcome home: Former LSU star Stephanie Hill is one of Fairfield’s assistant coaches. Hill, LSU’s 2006 team captain, was ranked in the Top 10 in Tigers history in home runs, slugging percentage and RBI when she graduated.