Conference tournaments only path to NCAAs for Grambling, Tech, NSU

THAT TIME OF YEAR:  LSU has ambitions to reach Omaha and the College World Series and is assured of its NCAA Tournament participation, but for area teams Grambling, Louisiana Tech and Northwestern, this week’s conference tournaments are do-or-die for their NCAA regional hopes. (Photo courtesy of LSU Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Grambling’s superb Southwestern Athletic Conference season won’t be enough.

As for the conference campaigns by baseball teams at Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State, not disastrous but not especially distinguished.

Of course, down in Baton Rouge, preseason national champion favorite LSU has its sights set on the College World Series and will be among the prime contenders to reach Omaha.

As all four NCAA Division I teams of strong local interest begin their conference tournaments Wednesday, only LSU is a sure thing to play the following weekend in an NCAA regional. Grambling, Tech and NSU must navigate their league brackets and come out on top to get into the NCAA postseason.

Each of the league tourneys is double elimination.

GRAMBLING:  The Tigers went 22-7 in the SWAC and are the West Division champions.  Grambling was 27-24 overall – making its non-SWAC record 5-17. The Tigers hope to face non-conference foes next weekend and to do it they must win in Atlanta. They  begin the conference tournament there Wednesday against Jackson State (28-23, 13-17) in a 6 p.m. EST game on the Georgia Tech campus. Alabama State (39-16, 26-4) is the favorite.

LOUISIANA TECH:  The Bulldogs are the defending Conference USA Tournament champions but have an uphill battle to retain that crown and make a third straight regional. Tech (27-29, 15-15) is the No. 6 seed and opens the tournament at 9 Wednesday morning against third-seeded Charlotte (29-25, 17-12). Dallas Baptist (42-13, 25-5) is the presumptive favorite in its first CUSA season, and may already have a firm grip on an at-large invite. Second-place UTSA (38-17, 21-8) is a threat, and the Bulldogs played the Roadrunners competitively last weekend in Ruston.

NORTHWESTERN STATE: If the Demons had handled the two Southland teams that didn’t qualify for the league tournament, they might be the regular-season champions. But NSU (27-25, 12-12) went 1-5 on the road at Southeastern Louisiana and Houston Christian, so the Demons are relegated to the fifth seed and face No. 2 UIW (28-24, 14-10) Wednesday morning at 11. Only three wins separated league champion Nicholls and three teams at 12-12 in the bottom three slots of the tournament, so it’s anyone’s to win. Good news: the Demons evaded the one-and-done opening play-in game tonight in Lake Charles. Tournament host McNeese and A&M-Corpus Christi are on the brink in that contest.

LSU:  The No. 5-ranked Tigers (42-13, 19-10) follow Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Dylan Crews and Pitcher of the Year Paul Skenes into the SEC Tournament at Hoover, Ala., with a regional hosting role a virtual lock no matter how LSU does this week. Skenes won’t lose his outing. The Tigers play at 9:30 Wednesday morning against the winner of today’s Georgia-South Carolina contest. Hard to fathom, but the No. 3 seeding is LSU’s best since the 2017 Tigers were the No. 1 seed at Hoover.

But as tournament play begins, regular-season results are only points of reference for all but college baseball’s elite. While most of the SEC is going on to regional action next week, underdog teams can emerge from the SWAC, CUSA and SLC events, and often have in the past. So, for Grambling, NSU and Tech, there’s a chance.

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