LAFAYETTE — Late in Tuesday’s game against Northwestern State, there was another sign that the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team is starting to grow out of its early-season struggles.
Nursing a 3-0 lead in the seventh inning with Joe Robbins at the plate and Kennon Fontenot at third base, coach Tony Robichaux called a suicide squeeze. Robbins laid a nice bunt down the third-base line, and Fontenot made an even nicer evasive slide at the plate to give the Cajuns a 4-0 lead.
It’s a play the Cajuns of early March might not have been able to make.
“When you try to get 35 people all on one page, sometimes it takes time,” Robichaux said.
The Cajuns struggled to play station-to-station baseball in the early portions of this season, whether that meant laying down a sacrifice bunt or stealing bases. But they’ve been turning things around lately.
In their first 24 games, the Cajuns had just one game where they successfully executed a sacrifice bunt three times. They’ve done it four times in the five games since.
They also swiped four bases against Northwestern State, giving them 14 stolen bases in their last nine contests. They had 15 stolen bases in the first 20 games, and they were also caught 13 times in that timeframe.
Robichaux said it was just a matter of getting his players to understand how he wants them to play.
“(Senior catcher Nick) Thurman and I — sometimes I can sit here and tell somebody what he’s fixing to call. But we’ve been together four years,” Robichaux said. “When you get new guys in — we’ve got 14 or 15 new guys out there, especially four new junior college guys — all their systems were different where they were. They hit differently, they play differently, their approach was different. When they get here it’s a different approach.
“It takes a while for them to journey away from that toward what we want them to do. Sometimes it takes you a little time. I think it’s taken us a little longer than we thought. Now, hopefully it’s kicking in and hopefully that’ll help us down the stretch.”
Former Cajun and current Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy was presented his 2015 Bob Feller Act of Valor award before Tuesday’s game against the San Francisco Giants.
The award, named after the Cleveland Hall of Famer who volunteered to join the Navy during World War II during the prime of his career, is given every year to a major league player who possesses “the values, integrity and dedication to serving our country that Bob Feller himself displayed.”
That all comes as no surprise to Robichaux.
“He’s not rewarded because of baseball,” Robichaux said. “He’s rewarded on what kind of man he is. What a great award. Those awards right there should mean more to him than anything, because it’s not a statistical or baseball award; it’s an award on what kind of man he is.”
A time to Jam
Sophomore outfielder Jam Williams got his second start of the season Tuesday against Northwestern State, and Robichaux said it wasn’t because Williams grew up near Natchitoches.
“Jam’s put in an enormous amount of time, effort and work without a lot of playing time,” Robichaux said. “His (batting practices) over the last three weeks have been really, really good. So we as coaches said, ‘Hey, let’s go ahead and stick him in as DH and let him have more than just a pinch hit. He can have three to four at-bats in the game.’ ”
Williams batted in the leadoff spot and went 0-for-2 with a walk, a stolen base and a sacrifice bunt. He entered Tuesday’s game with four at bats on the season.
The Cajuns have a few long travel days ahead of them this weekend for their trip to face Georgia Southern, and they’re getting an early crack at it Thursday morning.
The team will meet at 6 a.m. before boarding a bus for New Orleans. After the two-hour bus ride, they’ll fly to Atlanta, then board another bus for a three-hour trip to Statesboro, Georgia.
They’ll travel the same way on the return trip, logging a total of 10 hours on a bus.