Great stuff here from John Davis of The Oxford Citizen in his interview with Perfect Game’s Kendall Rogers. If you are a resident of Lafayette County this story will look much better in the copy of The Citizen that you will receive in the mail on Friday.
By John Davis
Kendall Rogers, the college baseball writer and managing editor of Perfect Game, is covering the Ole Miss-Louisiana Lafayette matchup in person this weekend. That one fact should demonstrate to everyone just how big this weekend’s Lafayette (La.) Super Regional really is.
Rogers felt like the best-of-three series, that sends the winner to the College World Series, is evenly matched and as he put it, the most intriguing of the eight going on.
“I think when you look at all the super regionals across the country, the Virginia-Maryland matchup is intriguing and then you look at Texas-Houston, those are two teams that don’t like each other a lot, so that’s intriguing. But the story lines for Ole Miss and UL-L are just as great,” Rogers said. “These two teams are very similar. I think it’s going to be a great series, great baseball games. Both Ole Miss and Louisiana-Lafayette have some power. People like to call these two power teams but they’re very versatile. They are both very aggressive at times. I think you’ll see that both teams have a good (pitching) rotation. I think that it will be a very evenly played series.”
Both the Rebels, who led the SEC in batting average this year, and the Ragin’ Cajuns, who lead the nation with 57 wins, hit the ball well. UL-L owns the nation’s second-best batting average at .319. Both have good starting pitching and both defend fairly well. Rogers felt like on paper, Ole Miss was the better of the two, but playing on the road, in front a rabid fan base, favored UL-L.
“I think Lafayette has some good arms, but pound for pound, from a pitching standpoint, I think Ole Miss is better. When you look at Chris Ellis and what he’s done this year and you look at Christian Trent and what he’s done, you like Ole Miss’ chances,” Rogers said. “I know Sam Smith, there have been some times where he has not been so sharp, but Ole Miss has a lot of options out the bullpen. The job that Scott Weathersby did over the weekend and all these guys, they’ve had guys step up. I think when you look at the overall stats, I give the edge to Ole Miss. But the kind of equalizer to me is the games are going to be in Lafayette and it’s going to be a rowdy atmosphere.”
Rogers had yet to travel to Lafayette for a game, but he’s been educated on the feel from other coaches he’s interviewed.
“They talk about the feel being like at the old Alex Box Stadium. It’s only got 4,000 people. I don’t want to sound negative, but it’s an older, more rundown place and that the crowd is rowdy,” Rogers said. “The good thing for Ole Miss is they went to Mississippi State earlier this year and they dealt with that crowd and all the people there and won two out of three. There is certainly a home-field advantage in the sense that it’s going to help UL-L when they’re down or something like that.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns won their first regional last weekend since 2000 and they did it coming through the loser’s bracket after falling in the opener to Jackson State. That impressed Rogers, who agreed that the team should have extra confidence now.
“The loss to Jackson State, that’s not an easy one to come back from. I was watching the end of that game and there was just shock on their faces. I think they were more shocked than the rest of us, too,” Rogers said. “When that happens, it’s tough to come back, but those guys, they played very well against San Diego State and they finished the weekend playing an excellent brand of baseball. A lot of that is veterans, they have a lot of veteran leaders on that team, but a lot of that is also coaching. They kept those guys focused.”
Rogers felt, when everything is said and done, that the series will go three games.
“I like UL-L slightly, but I will put a caveat on there that I will not be surprised to see Ole Miss win,” Rogers said. “This is very much an even series. If this series was in Oxford, I would go with Ole Miss. With this series being in Lafayette, I give them a little bit of an edge. I don’t think it will be one of those situations of the past where Ole Miss fans think they choked one away.”
Mike Bianco, Ole Miss’ head coach who has received his share of blame for losing all four his previous super regionals, was praised by Rogers for his coaching this season, and overall.
“I think it will be a great series that comes down to that final game. I just think it would be great for Mike to get to Omaha for the job that he’s done. I think it’s unfair some of the criticism he’s received over the years,” Rogers said. “This is an Ole Miss program, let’s face it, was nothing before he was there. They had one good year in 1995 and 1998 they got to regional in College Station, but this program was a nobody on the national scene. He created a national brand and the fact of the matter is, he’s done a heck of a job, one of the best coaching jobs this year.”