LAFAYETTE — It will not be easy, considering that Arkansas State currently sits second in the Sun Belt Conference baseball standings.
But the way the Ragin’ Cajuns’ season has gone so far, nothing appears out of reach for a team that takes the nation’s most wins and best record into a three-game Sun Belt series against the Red Wolves beginning Friday.
If the Cajuns (41-6, 18-3 Sun Belt) can sweep ASU (26-19, 14-7) this weekend, UL-Lafayette will lock up the Sun Belt’s regular-season title and the No. 1 seed for the league tournament, with two full weekends to go.
Such a sweep would give the Cajuns a seven-game advantage over the rest of the league with six games remaining. Only one team in Sun Belt history has ever won the league title by seven games — and that was the UL-Lafayette squad in 2007.
“That says a lot about this team,” said Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux, who will miss Friday’s 6 p.m. game at Tomlinson Stadium as the finale of his four-game suspension for making contact with an umpire last Saturday. “They’re going to grind it out every night, and the one thing you know for sure is they’re going to come out and compete.”
The Cajuns are actually 3-0 since Robichaux was ejected last Saturday in a 10-3 loss to Texas State, their third Sun Belt loss this year. UL-Lafayette beat the Bobcats 2-0 in the Sunday finale and swept a pesky Southeastern team 6-5 and 10-8 on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Cajuns’ final midweek games of the year.
“The biggest pressure’s on me if they win all four and then I have to come back,” Robichaux joked. “They’re obviously good enough to win without me. Our coaches have been around and they do a great job. If this team had 23 freshmen and they were all out there looking around, we might be in trouble. But this is an experienced team.
“We teach a lot that we don’t want them co-dependent on me. Our players don’t panic. You could take our whole coaching staff out of the dugout and they’d go out there and fight.”
They will have to battle against an Arkansas State squad that has gone 8-1 in its three Sun Belt home series this year and has won five of seven league series. The Red Wolves did lose two of three at Georgia State last weekend, but took a 10-6 win in the Sunday finale and beat Murray State 7-6 on Tuesday.
“It’s a tough week for us with the five games,” Robichaux said. “It’s a long bus ride to a tough place to play and a field that’s not conducive to scoring a lot of runs. After this week we can line up our pitching staff for the weekends to come and the postseason.”
UL-Lafayette has won 11 of its last 13, getting to 40 wins and beyond before the end of April — a first in school history. The Cajuns are two wins away from matching last year’s win total, when their 43-20 record had them as the nation’s sixth-most-improved team.
Those two wins also kept alive the mathematical possibility that UL-Lafayette could get to 50 wins before the start of the Sun Belt Tournament May 21-25 in Mobile, Alabama. The Cajuns have nine games remaining before that tournament, all of them league games.
“Forty-one before May is just really incredible,” Cajuns associate head coach Anthony Babineaux said. “To have a chance to win 50 before the regular-season ends is just remarkable. I can’t even fathom that.”
Junior right-hander Austin Robichaux (5-2, 3.40) — who returned from three weekends of inactivity with tendinitis and threw four innings last Friday against Texas State — is slated for the series opener against ASU sophomore right-hander David Owen (5-3, 3.88). Owen took the loss in last Friday’s 5-1 Red Wolves loss to GSU, allowing only five hits but throwing 112 pitches in 5.2 innings.
Owen will face a UL-Lafayette lineup that was held to one hit in Sunday’s 2-0 win and seven hits in the Tuesday victory in Hammond, but bounced back with five extra-base hits in its 13-hit attack in Wednesday’s win. The Cajuns entered the week leading the nation in slugging percentage at .518, and they’re third nationally in team hitting (.321).
“I’m not concerned with offense,” Robichaux said. “They have done a great job all season, they’ve picked up our pitchers a lot along the way.”