June 2, 2014 11:21:18 AM
LAFAYETTE, La. -- The No. 1 and top-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team knows it will face one of the nation's best relief pitchers tonight.
The Ragin' Cajuns just don't know when Jacob Lindgren will come in.
At 6 tonight, ULL (56-8) and No. 17 and second-seeded Mississippi State will square off in a winner-take-all championship game for the NCAA tournament Lafayette Regional. MSU (39-23) will try to rally to take home its third regional title since 2011. To do that, the Bulldogs must find some pitching answers against one of the nation's best lineups. On Sunday, the Ragin' Cajuns had 18 hits and scored in six of eight innings against four pitchers.
Junior left-hander Lucas Laster (0-1, 1.97) will try to help the MSU pitching staff regroup. In eight games (three starts), Laster has allowed 23 hits and six walks in 32 innings. He has struck out 25.
MSU also should have Lindgren, one of the nation's top relievers, available. The first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection hasn't pitched in the regional. He was first in ERA in SEC games and opponent batting average (.114). He also allowed the fewest hits (13), runs (four), and earned runs (two). A candidate for the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award, Lindgren (6-1) leads MSU with a 0.88 ERA overall and a .116 opponent batting average.
ULL coach Tony Robichaux preached Sunday night after a 14-8 victory that his team will have to wear Lindgren down. He doesn't feel the Ragin' Cajuns will be able to overcome Lindgren with one swing.
"We'll study the guy extensively, but what we try to do with swing-and-miss guys like Lindgren is take him down collectively," Robichaux said. "You're not going to take a guy like that, like a buffalo, down by yourself. It's going to take all nine guys with a good approach."
MSU has had multiple opportunities to use Lindgren, but coach John Cohen has elected not to use him. The Bulldogs' 2-0 start gave the team the luxury of not being pressed into needing to use Lindgren to stay alive.
"We think Lucas Laster can give us a quality start, and then we'll use Jacob Lindgren at some point, but (we) don't know when that will be yet," Cohen said.
After lowering his SEC ERA from 5.20 in 2013 to a league-low 0.55 this season, Lindgren has surpassed his two-year career strikeout total (83) with 93 this season. Lindgren leads all relief pitchers in strikeouts, and leads the country with 16.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
ULL's victory against MSU followed an 11-1 win against Jackson State that ran its record to 16-0 against left-handed starting pitchers.
"We'll look at video and then give our guys something to look at similarly in batting practice before the game," Robichaux said. "We did a great job today of letting our guys see slow B.P. and our guys got a chance to see how they'll be able to attack the middle of the field."
ULL entered the regional leading the nation in slugging percentage. Its efforts Sunday helped it score more than eight runs in a game for the 30th time. Since a 1-0 loss to Jackson State on Friday, the Ragin' Cajuns have scored 34 runs in three games against San Diego State, Jackson State, and MSU. Robichaux said the game plan tonight will be to take away the effectiveness of Lindgren's fastball so his slider, which he normally doesn't throw for strikes, isn't a factor.
"We try to take away a guy's fastball, and we will do the same thing with him because that's what all great pitchers have to base their stuff off of," Robichaux said.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.