HAMMOND, La. – An opening-night matchup at home against in-state rival UL Lafayette, one of eight NCAA Regional participants from the past year the Lions are set to face, sets the tone for a rugged 2017 baseball schedule, Southeastern Louisiana head coach Matt Riser announced Tuesday.
“We saw the benefits of playing a tough schedule last season, picking up the program’s first at-large bid to the NCAA Regionals,” Riser said. “We want to continue to challenge ourselves from a non-conference standpoint. In order for us to take this another step further, winning a Regional instead of just getting in, we have to play this type of competition.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns, Tulane, Rice, South Alabama, Southern Miss and Southland Conference foe Sam Houston State were all Regional participants, while LSU and Vanderbilt advanced to the Super Regional round.
Southeastern has 18 games scheduled against those opponents, including eight of the Lions’ first 10 games.
“What I really like is that we challenge ourselves very early in the schedule to see what we’re made of,” Riser said. “We may have put ourselves in a bind, being on the road as much as we are early, but it really strengthens our non-conference schedule. The neat thing, though, is the quality of home opponents.”
The home slate includes a pair of games against both UL Lafayette and West Virginia, runner up in the Big 12 Tournament, and a 3-game series against Seton Hall (May 18-20). The Pirates led the nation with 183 stolen bases last season. By comparison, the Lions finished sixth nationally with 113 stolen bases.
South Alabama (April 4), Tulane and six of the seven conference schools that joined the Lions in the Southland Tournament this past season will also make stops at Pat Kenelly Diamond at Alumni Field in 2017.
“To have all those team come in here is as important as playing a quality schedule overall,” Riser said.
Opening weekend will have a different feel to it than in years past. The Ragin Cajuns (Feb. 17) will join Hofstra (Feb. 18) and Murray State (Feb. 19) in Hammond for a round-robin tournament, with two games being played each day.
“I like the format of it,” Riser said. “UL Lafayette’s stadium won’t be ready for the beginning of the season. We thought it would be a great situation where they could bring their opponent over here and set up a tournament. We’re trying to set up a Regional-type atmosphere. The two of us made the Regionals last season, and Murray State is a much-improved club with a couple of players who were Cape Cod League All-Stars this summer. It kind of fell into our lap, but we couldn’t ask for a better situation with the excitement of opening weekend and a tournament here at home.”
Following the tournament, the Green Wave come to town for a mid-week contest (Feb. 21) and then the Lions hit the road for eight consecutive games.
Southeastern travels to Rice (Feb. 24-26), for a 3-game series against a team the Lions faced twice in the Baton Rouge Regional this past season, Vanderbilt (Feb. 28-March 1), for a pair of games against the Commodores, and Pensacola, Florida, for the Cox Diamond Invitational (March 3-5).
The Lions will face South Alabama, Troy and Seton Hall in the tournament slated for Blue Wahoos Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Reds’ Double-A affiliate.
“We’re excited to go over there and be part of the tournament,” Riser said. “We’ve seen the quality of opponents that have played in it the last couple seasons. Troy played in it this past season, right after playing us. It’s an easy trip for our fans to make, and once again puts us in a Regional-type atmosphere. South Alabama was a Regional participant this last season. Troy is going to make another strong push for the Sun Belt Conference title again, and Seton Hall is making a strong push in the Big East.”
Southeastern will face two of the teams later in the season, but the tournament provides another opportunity for the Lions to put themselves in a playoff atmosphere.
“At the end of the year, we obviously want to get in the Regionals, but we want to win it,” Riser said. “The more times we can put ourselves in that format, and play quality opponents, the better off we’ll be when it comes time to do it.”
After the Cox Diamond Invitational, Southeastern returns home to host West Virginia (March 7-8) in pair of mid-week games leading into conference play.
The Lions open Southland action against New Orleans (March 10-12), hosting the middle game of the series.
Other conference teams passing through Pat Kenelly Diamond include Lamar (March 17-19), McNeese (March 31-April 2), Northwestern State (April 13-15), Nicholls (April 22), Sam Houston (May 5-7) and Central Arkansas (May 12-14).
Southeastern will face Southland opponents Houston Baptist (March 24-26), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (April 7-9), Nicholls (April 21 and 23) and Stephen F. Austin (April 28-30) on the road.
The Lions face other key road contests at South Alabama (March 14), LSU (March 22), Tulane (May 2) and a game at MGM Park in Biloxi, Mississippi, against Southern Miss (May 16).
“We’re making our name known as a national program,” Riser said. “We’ve got a fan base that supports us not only at home, but on the road as well. They do a fantastic job of traveling, and more people are starting to see that with the tournaments we’re in. It helps the atmosphere and the quality of baseball being played. We have to continue to perform at that level and grow this thing.”
The top eight teams in the Southland will once again qualify for the conference’s post-season tournament at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas, May 24-27.