HOUSTON — Tony Robichaux and Jim Schlossnagle are in agreement about many things going into this weekend’s Shriners Children’s Hospital College Classic.
The coaches at Louisiana-Lafayette and TCU both have nationally ranked baseball squads, and both are still trying to determine how good their clubs are. And both say that the three-day, six-team tournament, which begins Friday at the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park, will tell them a lot about their squads.
“Everybody here’s nationally ranked, whatever that means at this point,” said Schlossnagle, whose 3-1 Horned Frogs face the 3-1 Ragin’ Cajuns at 3:30 p.m. Friday in the tournament’s second game. “Certainly it’s an opportunity to gauge your team. When you walk out of a tournament like this, you know what you’re good at and you know what you have to get better at. That’s what you want in February.”
Added Robichaux: “Playing this kind of competition weathers your team. You’re going to get punched when you play teams like this. We’d been protected at home that first weekend against a team that had a lot of young kids, and now we’re going to play older people. You’re not going to win every one of them, but you have to learn when you do lose.”
The Cajuns learned they’re not invincible in their last outing Wednesday night, when they traveled to Louisiana Tech and came home with a 6-2 loss that snapped a three-game season-opening win streak. Now, they’ll face a Horned Frogs team that virtually parallels them in the early national polls.
The Cajuns are ranked sixth, ninth, 13th and 16th in the four major national polls, the highest ranking coming in Collegiate Baseball magazine’s poll. TCU is 11th, 13th, 15th and 17th in those same four polls after taking two of three games from Loyola-Marymount over the weekend and popping Arkansas-Pine Bluff 17-3 at home Wednesday night.
The stands were packed at Tech’s J. C. Love Field when the Cajuns visited on Wednesday, and large crowds are expected throughout the weekend with two hometown squads (Rice and Houston) and the rest of the field coming from within the region. Houston meets Texas Tech at noon and Rice faces Arkansas at 7 p.m. in Friday’s other first-day games.
UL-Lafayette will also face Texas Tech at noon Saturday and Rice at 6 p.m. Sunday.
“This weekend gives us, to me, the feel of a super regional,” Robichaux said. “That’s the way we’re going to try to approach it. We want to go in and try to win two out of three. If we sweep, hey, that’s good. We’ve been turned back at the end the last two years (in Super Regional play) and that’s because we didn’t win two out of three.”
Said Schlossnagle, whose team will be playing on the road for the first time: “I want to see how our guys handle the environment. If you hope to play in the College World Series in front of 35,000 people, you better be able to handle the outside part of it.”
The Cajuns have played in two previous tournaments at Minute Maid Park, albeit under a different name. They won two of three in 2002 and were swept in three games the next year in what was then the Astros College Classic.
Robichaux will use the same starting rotation from the opening weekend when they swept Sam Houston State. Sophomore left-hander Gunner Leger (0-0, 0.00), who threw six innings of one-hit ball in last Friday’s opener, is slated to work against the Horned Frogs and match up with TCU’s towering 6-foot-9 junior right-hander Brian Howard (1-0, 0.00). Howard scattered three hits and fanned five in just over six innings in what became a 1-0 win over Loyola-Marymount on Saturday.
Sophomore right-hander Wyatt Marks (1-0, 1.42) and freshman right-hander Nick Lee (0-0, 4.50) are scheduled to go for the Cajuns on Saturday and Sunday.
Junior second baseman Brenn Conrad (.636) has reached base on 11 of his last 13 plate appearances and leads the Cajuns in hitting, while reigning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week Kyle Clement had a school-record-tying five hits in UL-Lafayette’s 13-3 Sunday win over SHSU. But Clement struck out three times at Tech Wednesday, part of 13 strikeouts posted by Bulldog pitchers.
“It’s scary to have a vulnerability and know you can’t fix it for the rest of the season,” Robichaux said. “But if you never get exposed, you never find out what that vulnerability is. For us, this weekend will test us. Come Monday, we hopefully will be fortunate enough to get tested and win at the same time.”