In the midst of the March Madness, the intensity on the college baseball diamond is also beginning to heat up.
Just ask Baton Rouge Community College and Delgado.
After winning only two of its first 10 contests, BRCC has nearly bounced back to .500 and will look to reach that mark when it travels to face Delgado at 1 p.m. Saturday for the Miss-Lou Conference season opener at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium.
In Division I, the Miss-Lou Conference consists of three schools — BRCC, Delgado and Meridian — who play a round-robin of six games apiece against each opponent. The winner earns league bragging rights as well as a bye in the postseason regional tournament.
So with more on the line this weekend, BRCC coach L.J. Dupuy knows how important this next stretch of games could be in the long run.
“Going into conference, you’re going to be playing your best players,” Dupuy said. “You’re going to be playing your top guys, so you’re going to a have a lot more excitement, and the fact that you’re playing for something means a lot. Plus, the natural rivalry we have with Delgado is huge.”
The two schools are building a little history between them, and the 2013 meetings could line up to be just as exciting.
BRCC (17-19) fought back to win 14 out of 18 games during a stretch through late February and early March, but the Bears have lost seven of nine games, including a current four-game skid.
Delgado (27-3), on the other hand, suffered two of its losses in the first weekend of action, dropping close contests to Pensacola State College in a season-opening tournament.
Since then, the Dolphins have gotten hot. They’ve won 17 of their past 18, and they boast a 12-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s doubleheader.
“They’ve got a team that can hit the ball,” Dupuy said. “They’ve got some speed on the team. The pitching — they’re going to throw strikes, and they’ve got a dominant closer. They’re going to be tough to beat.”
The Bears will send sophomore left-hander Jared Keating in the opener.
Keating (4-3, 3.82 ERA) has struck out a team-high 44 batters while surrendering just 17 walks and one home run.
“He’s going to throw strikes and he’s going to keep us in the ballgame,” Dupuy said. “He’s a command pitcher. He changes speeds, changes the hitter’s eye-level. They don’t get real good swings off of him, and that’s important. You want to be able to get guys that have command and can throw in the strike zone and change speeds on hitters.”
BRCC will need a solid outing from Keating, as the Bears face a Delgado squad that holds a .310 batting average and puts up more than seven runs per game. The Dolphins have racked up 21 home runs this year.
In comparison, BRCC posts a .267 batting average and scores 4.4 runs per game with just 16 homers.
“The most important thing for us going into this series is that we hit productively,” Dupuy said. “We’ve had many, many opportunities this year where we did not get the productive hit, and that’s critical for us. Of course, the second thing is for the pitching staff to command the strike zone and not put guys on base in front of Delgado hitters who can all hit it out of the ballpark.”