Around mid-morning on Tuesday, Belmont's baseball team still hadn’t settled on a mode of transportation for this weekend’s trip to Baton Rouge, La.
The Bruins would board a plane if the NCAA picked up the bill. If not, they’d load a bus — a familiar vehicle used back and forth from Atlantic Sun Conference venues.
Ironing out travel logistics wasn’t an issue last year when Belmont was preparing for its first NCAA Regional in school history. That’s because the Bruins didn’t go very far — just two miles down the road to host Vanderbilt. The perks of a short trip were obvious: sleeping in their own beds; playing in front of a bevy of family, friends and Belmont fans; and matching up against the crosstown rival.
One year later, though, the Bruins are more than eager to get out of Dodge.
“Having experienced that, many of these kids, they wanted to go somewhere a little bit more college baseball exotic, you might say,” coach Dave Jarvis said. “LSU’s definitely got that flavor.”
And a venue unlike any in college baseball.
When Belmont opens its second straight NCAA Regional on Friday against Oregon State, Alex Box Stadium might be tame. But by Friday night, the 10,150-seat stadium should be revved up as LSU, a No. 7 national seed, squares off against Louisiana-Monroe.
If the Bruins, who fly out at 1:15 p.m. on Wednesday, happen to cross paths with LSU later in the weekend, Jarvis expects to hear “10,000 screaming Cajuns.”
“It is a hostile environment,” right-handed pitcher Chase Brookshire, who will start on Friday, said. “It is a great place to play and I’m sure they pack it out. It might be kind of nerve-racking to go out there and play in front of a big crowd. But that is why everybody plays the game. That’s why we grew up loving this sport — for these moments right here.”
Playing — and winning — in an NCAA Regional isn’t new for Belmont (39-22). The Bruins won twice last June — the school’s first NCAA Tournament wins in any sport.
Walking into a venue this size, however, is different.
Since last April, they have played their home games at Rose Park, which has a capacity of 750 and embraces walk-up crowds. Most A-Sun stadiums draw similar numbers.
Belmont, which has a road record of 13-13, played at Auburn in March and the three-game series averaged more than 2,200. Last year, in the NCAA Regional opener against Vanderbilt the Bruins played in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,541 at Hawkins Field.
But they’ve never played at Alex Box Stadium, which has led the country in national attendance every season since 1996.
Plus, LSU's record at home this season is 31-7, although Vanderbilt won two of three there earlier this month.
“I think we’re about as prepared as you can be,” designated hitter/first baseman Judah Akers said. “We’ve played at big schools. We’ve played at Vanderbilt and Auburn this year and had some good hecklers there. I feel, as a team, we’re fairly mature as ballplayers. I feel we’re ready for it and you kind of fuel off of the energy and the crowd, even though they’re not really pulling for you.”