Eight teams roll into Ruston this week for the start of the 2021 Air Force Reserve Conference USA Tournament at JC Love Field at Pat Patterson Park.
Only one will roll out as the champion.
However, with the overall success of the league this year – four teams ranked in the Top 25 – one thing is for certain. Conference USA will be well represented in the upcoming NCAA Regionals.
“I think our league is really, really good,” said LA Tech skipper Lane Burroughs. “Even a Middle Tennessee, (which) is the eight seed, is one of the best pitching teams in our league. It will be wide open. It will be fun. It should be great baseball all week here in Ruston. Hopefully on Sunday we will be playing for a chance to win it all.”
The top four seeds – Charlotte, LA Tech, Southern Miss, and Old Dominion – should be shoe-ins to receive an NCAA at-large bid this year regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s five-day tournament that starts at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
However, what if one of the bottom four seeds is the last team standing on Sunday?
“FAU is the hottest team in the league,” Burroughs said. “We were talking about it this morning as a staff. If FAU wins this tournament, does Conference USA get five teams in the NCAA Tournament? It should. It’s a very good league, it’s a deep league. A lot of very good coaches. A lot of very good players. And this is one of those years where there is a lot of depth. It’s just very competitive, and I look for the same thing all week in this tournament.”
Tech opens the tournament at 4 p.m. Wednesday against the No. 7 seed in Texas-San Antonio. Although the Roadrunners aren’t one of the tournament favorites, Burroughs knows any one of the eight are capable of winning. And he knows how important it is to win on day one of the tournament.
“It’s whoever gets hot,” Burroughs said. “You see it every year. You will see a seven or eight seed get hot. It’s important to win that first game. You can win it from the losers bracket, but it’s hard to navigate due to the extra games and pitching. Game one is important. You have to do whatever you can to win.
“It’s not always the best team. Sometimes it’s that team that roles into the tournament and doesn’t have anything to lose. They get on a role and confident and can be dangerous. When you get that mojo going, you are hard to beat.”
The Bulldogs will enter the tournament after dropping a pair of midweek non-conference games against C-USA foe Old Dominion. The Bulldogs had four-run leads in both games, but saw the Monarchs rally for the victories.
Following those two games, Burroughs gave his players the weekend off.
“We gave our guys the last two days off,” Burroughs said. “We told them not to come around the facility. I went to Mississippi and stayed with my mom and ate some country food. Just got away from baseball. I came back, and I am re-energized and ready to go.
“I hope our guys will be. I know they will be. Sometimes getting away from the game and clearing your mind can do wonders.”