LAFAYETTE — It was halfway through Louisiana-Lafayette’s baseball season when things changed for Chase Compton.
It wasn’t like the Ragin’ Cajuns senior first baseman wasn’t swinging well or not making contact, and he wasn’t going after bad pitches. Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux says Compton has got an impeccable view of the strike zone.
“He’s always had that,” Robichaux said. “He’s one of those unique hitters that swings hard, but yet is patient. That’s the toughest guys for a pitcher to deal with.”
But the Slidell native was still hitting .246 — and in a UL-Lafayette lineup that still ranks fourth nationally in team batting at .318, with eight regulars over the .300 mark, that number looked anemic.
Compton himself knew he was capable of much more. After all, he led the Cajuns as a sophomore at .328 in his first of what is now three years as UL-Lafayette’s regular third baseman.
“I hit a lot of balls hard,” Compton said. “I just knew I didn’t want to get down on myself, try to stay up the middle and not worry about the results. I knew if I kept hitting it hard and stayed confident that things would get better.”
That’s been an understatement. Since the 25-game mark March 25 against Northwestern State when he’s slipped to .246, Compton has gone 24-for-67 over the last 25 games. That’s a .358 average, and he finally cracked the .300 mark for the season during the past weekend at Arkansas State.
All he did during that weekend was earn Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week honors, going 8-for-16 at the plate with seven runs scored, a pair of doubles and four RBIs. A couple of days earlier, he delivered a ninth-inning two-run homer in Hammond, not far from his hometown, that gave the Cajuns a comeback 6-5 victory over Southeastern Louisiana.
“The thing that’s different this year with him is just maturity,” Robichaux said. “Last year when he ran into a rut, when you’re younger it can spook you, you press and all of a sudden you’re spinning your wheels. Every athlete gets into a rut, the difference is how long you stay in it.
“The one thing I’m really proud of him is that when he ran into trouble at the bottom of the order, he was still productive. He was getting hit by pitches, he was bunting, he was squeezing and reaching base by taking walks. He’s always been one of our best defenders, but he kept bringing something to the table at the plate.”
His defense alone would likely have been enough to cement a lineup spot. Compton has committed only 11 career errors in four years, and only two this season as the regular first-base starter. The fact that UL-Lafayette’s starting infielders have only 20 combined errors through 50 games is a testament to his ability to make plays even on bad throws.
Even with those defensive numbers, though, Compton’s primary asset during his career has been plate discipline. But he’s been even more efficient over two seasons that he’s walked more than he’s struck out. Those numbers this year are striking — 21 walks and a team-low 11 strikeouts. Combined with his hit-by-pitch numbers, his .455 on-base percentage is second on the squad only to leadoff man and .370 hitter Caleb Adams.
“It’s always easier to hit when you swing at strikes,” Compton said. “The key to being consistent is stay with your approach and always try to have a quality at-bat.”
Robichaux said Compton’s ability to lay off pitches outside the strike zone can frustrate pitchers.
“Even in intrasquad games he’s tough to get out,” said Robichaux, who doubles as UL-Lafayette’s pitching coach. “When pitchers see a guy swing hard one time, they have a tendency to go to the edge of the plate on him. They love to see a big swinger not have a good view of the strike zone so they can pitch off the plate and all around the plate.
“You can’t do that with Compton, because he swings hard and has a great view. Barry Bonds was like that ... he swung hard with a ton of power but he had an impeccable view of the zone. That’s a double dose to deal with, and I really think that’s what’s helped Chase throughout this process.”