By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
HATTIESBURG, Miss. – For Louisiana Tech to get to next week, the Bulldogs first must flash back to last week.
The second-seeded Diamond Dogs (38-18) square off against No. 7 Charlotte (35-20) today in a meeting slated for 12:30 in the Conference USA Tournament, a double-elimination, eight-team event at the home field of regular-season champion Southern Miss.
Tech and Charlotte met in North Carolina last week, with the Bulldogs bouncing back from a loss Thursday to top the 49ers in the final two games of the regular season. Those outcomes cooled off a sizzling Charlotte squad that had won 12 of its last 13 in league play.
The Bulldogs are hoping to qualify for their second straight NCAA Tournament by doing something the record-shattering 2021 team did not – win the conference tournament. Falling short of that, Lane Burrough’s 2022 squad probably needs at least a couple of wins, and possibly surviving into weekend play, to enhance its chances for an at-large NCAA invitation, according to some college baseball analysts.
While USM is nationally-ranked and certain to be playing next week, perhaps as a regional host, Tech and the other two teams closest to the Golden Eagles (Old Dominion and UTSA) all have RPI between 45-48 and finished within a game of each other in the C-USA standings. Those most successful this week are likely to be playing next week.
Getting to NCAA play would mark the first time since Pat Patterson was coaching the Bulldogs, in 1986-87 when Tech was in the Southland Conference, that the program reached the regionals in back-to-back seasons.
Tech will face either No. 3 ODU or No. 6 Middle Tennessee Thursday, playing at either 9 a.m. (elimination bracket) or again at 12:30.
Six Bulldogs made the all-conference team announced Tuesday. Third baseman Logan McLeod won Defensive Player of the Year honors. Infielder Taylor Young, outfielder Cole McConnell and reliever Kyle Crigger were named as first-team selections while catcher Jorge Corona, starting pitcher Cade Gibson and reliever Ryan Harland earned second-team honors.
Young, a fifth-year senior, ended the regular season leading the nation with 81 runs scored. The West Monroe native started all 56 games at shortstop and has played in 222 consecutive games dating back to April 6, 2018. He owns a .351 batting average and is second in the conference with a .500 on-base percentage. He leads the Bulldogs with 20 doubles, leads the conference with 51 walks and has 23 multi-hit games.
McConnell, a third-year sophomore, sits second in the conference and 10th in the nation with 71 RBI and hit .341 during the regular season.
Crigger appeared in a team-leading 30 games while tossing in 56.2 innings in relief, posting a 1.43 ERA ranking him the fourth in the country. Tech’s senior closer has held opponents to a .211 batting average and ranks tied for first in the conference with 10 saves.
Photo by TOM MORRIS, Louisiana Tech