LAFAYETTE — Let this statistic sink in: The Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team batted .200 during the Houston regional, never hitting better than .275 in a single game, and it swept its way into this weekend’s super regional round at LSU.
It’s incongruous, to say the least. The Ragin’ Cajuns went 17-for-85 during their three games in Houston, and only two of those hits went for extra bases.
Coach Tony Robichaux constantly preaches the merits of pitching and defense when it comes to formulating a winning baseball equation, even getting to the point lately where he has apologized for the frequency with which he utters those two words.
But the team’s got to hit, too, right? How exactly were the Cajuns able to avoid the losers’ bracket while putting on such an anemic offensive show?
Go back to the Hack Attack drill run by former hitting coach Matt Deggs, Robichaux said, and you might have an answer.
“(Deggs) put the Hack Attack (pitching) machine on about 96 (mph) with a slider,” Robichaux said. “We weren’t going to hit it — can’t hit it. We know that. He told them that from the get-go: ‘You’re not going to hit this; you’re lucky if you foul it off.’ ”
The Cajuns would then proceed to spend 30 to 40 minutes stepping up in the batter’s box and flailing at pitches they had no chance of connecting on. The trick was to go up believing you’d be the one to hit it, then to leave the box after three cuts still thinking you had a chance.
Show an inkling of doubt or anger at the fruitless exercise?
“If he saw any negative emotion, pouting, ‘poor old me,’ ‘why old me,’ he’d blow the whistle and we’d do sit-ups and push-ups until we ran off the ‘poor old me,’ ” Robichaux said.
On Sunday, the Cajuns faced a real-life version of the Hack Attack in Houston’s Seth Romero, who carved up the Cajuns with eight one-hit innings. Robichaux’s eyes scanned his players for the “poor old me,” but he didn’t see it. Down 1-0 going into the ninth, he knew they still had a chance.
The Cajuns rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth without getting the ball out of the infield. Ball game.
What about the first game of the regional? The Cajuns hadn’t fared much better Friday against Rice, picking up just five hits in the first eight innings. This time, assistant coach Anthony Babineaux pressed the right button.
The Cajuns had chased too many pitches out of the zone early in the game, depressing the impact they could inflict with their bats. So, trailing 6-2, Babineaux started forcing them to take pitches and work the count.
Voilà: The Cajuns drew back-to-back walks to load the bases. Suddenly, when strikes were a necessity, Rice pitchers started offering the batters good pitches to hit. Back-to-back singles brought in three runs, another walk with the bases loaded tied the score and a sacrifice fly brought the go-ahead run home.
The Cajuns scored seven combined runs in the ninth inning of those two games on a grand total of three hits.
In the regional as a whole, the Cajuns scored nearly as many runs (14) as they had hits (17). When the hits weren’t falling, they were doing other things well.
The Cajuns struck out only 17 times in three games while drawing 15 walks. They successfully laid down eight sacrifice bunts and hit a pair of sacrifice flies.
And they were doing other things well to score enough runs to win thanks to the pitching (2.33 ERA) and defense (zero errors in three games).
There it is again — the old pitching and defense line.
“I know y’all get tired of hearing that,” Robichaux said, “but it’s all you can do, and you hope that somewhere along the way something happens.”
That’s all it boiled down to in the regional: Make something happen, even when the real-life Hack Attack makes that seem impossible.