LAFAYETTE — Tony Robichaux said Monday that his team’s first three goals for the 2014 season were to win a championship, get to 50 wins and host an NCAA regional.
His Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team reached the first of those goals this past weekend, the Ragin’ Cajuns are sneaking up on the second and he drew inspiration from the softball team’s success at garnering a national seed and a regional host slot Sunday.
“We’re trying to do the same,” Robichaux said Monday at his weekly press luncheon. “(The softball team) took care of their work, and now we have to take care of ours.”
The baseball team did its part over the weekend with a three-game sweep at South Alabama, one that locked up the school’s first regular-season Sun Belt Conference title since 2010 and its first outright title since 2007. The 5-2 Friday win clinched the title, and the Cajuns ended it emphatically with a 13-3 victory Sunday.
UL-Lafayette had never swept three games from the Jaguars in Mobile.
The sweep left the Cajuns (46-7, 23-4) with a six-game lead on their nearest competitor in the conference standings going into the final regular-season weekend, against UL-Monroe (22-31, 11-16). The Warhawks are sixth in the standings; the top eight advance to next week’s Sun Belt tournament in Mobile, but the sixth- through 10th-place teams are separated by two games. ULM needs at least one win to all but secure a tournament berth.
“They have a lot on the line,” Robichaux said. “There are so many teams bunched up to make the tournament, anything can happen.”
The Cajuns swept the Warhawks in the Sun Belt’s opening weekend in March, winning 4-1, 14-1 and 21-2. A week later, ULM fired coach Jeff Schexnaider, and assistant Bruce Peddie took over as interim. ULM was 8-17 when Schexnaider was ousted and has gone 14-14 since.
“Sometimes adversity, if it’s handled positively, you can grow from it and get better from it,” Robichaux said. “Bruce is doing a good job with them, keeping them together. ... They haven’t pitched very well, but they’re scoring runs.”
The Cajuns did the same thing over the weekend at South Alabama, scoring 26 runs on 37 hits in the three games against a Jaguars squad that was fourth in the Sun Belt in pitching entering the series. The production was the most for UL-Lafayette in a Sun Belt series since it scored double digits in all three games at Troy in early April.
Meanwhile, the three UL-Lafayette starters combined to allow seven runs and only four earned runs while walking six and fanning 17 in 19 innings. Carson Baranik (9-1) and Cody Boutte (7-0) went six innings each Saturday and Sunday after Austin Robichaux (7-2) checked USA on two hits and no earned runs in seven innings in the Cajuns’ 5-2 Friday win. Those assignments may change slightly this weekend, with the series moved up a day to Thursday through Saturday.
“Austin looked good,” Tony Robichaux said. “He got back to dominating an opponent and not just pitching. Game 2, we had a bad inning that cost Carson another ‘W,’ but we won at the back end, and that was good. Sunday, our hitters came out and Boutte pitched good once again. With the games moved up a day, we’ll rearrange our pitchers and try to line them up for the conference tournament.”
Robichaux said he’s not focused on anything except the ULM series, but he acknowledged his team’s opportunity to host an NCAA regional for the first time since the College World Series season of 2000.
“Seeds are things I don’t worry about,” he said. “I only worry about Monroe and Game 1, then plow through the rest and hope it’s good enough to host. Our goal has been to win every series, and if we do that and get our pitching lined up for the conference tournament, then hopefully there’s no debate.
“What do we have to do? I don’t know, and I don’t worry about that except to go take care of our business and hopefully it takes care of itself.”