LITTLE ROCK, Ark . — Louisiana-Lafayette got off to a flying start in the Sun Belt Conference baseball race last weekend, and now the Ragin’ Cajuns will face a team struggling to find its identity.
The Cajuns (10-5, 3-0), winners of six straight, will make their first Sun Belt road appearance of the year at Arkansas-Little Rock (4-8, 1-2) in a three-game weekend series beginning 6 p.m. Friday at Gary Hogan Field. But for UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux, the opponent doesn’t matter.
“We ignore our opponent and compete against the game,” Robichaux said Wednesday, only minutes after his team’s second mid-week weather cancellation. “Our opponent is us. We’re going to go there and be tested and we’ll learn a lot. This past weekend, we didn’t beat Troy, we handled ourselves.”
Last week’s Trojan opponents might disagree after UL-Lafayette took 6-5, 6-2 and 10-5 wins to sweep its opening Sun Belt series for the third straight year. The Cajuns pounded out 35 hits including 15 extra-base shots in the three games while the pitching staff fanned 40 Trojan batters and allowed two runs from the bullpen in 15.1 innings.
Now the Cajuns will face a UALR Trojan squad that lost two of three at South Alabama last weekend in a series that featured only 13 runs by both teams combined. UALR won the Friday opener 4-3 but lost 1-0 and 2-1 the next two days.
UALR, under first-year coach Chris Curry, is hitting only .205 as a team and hasn’t had double-digit hits in a game since its season-opening 6-3 win over Evansville. The Trojans have been held to five or fewer hits six times in 12 games and have only two homers all season after a 9-2 loss Wednesday at Wichita State.
“They have a new philosophy there with a new coach I like and respect,” Robichaux said.
“They won Friday and then lost two at South Alabama but all three games were close and they played good in all three games.”
UALR got solid pitching in each game of its first league series, with sophomore righthander Cory Malcom throwing eight innings and allowing three runs in getting the Friday win.
Junior lefty Jarrid Garcia shut out USA on six hits over six innings in the 1-0 middle-game loss, and junior right-hander Sam Thoele allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings in the Sunday finale.
Even with those efforts, the Trojans still have a 6.28 team ERA, mostly because the rest of the staff has a combined 10.23 mark (50 earned runs in 44 innings) and as a team UALR has walked 53 batters in 96 innings.
The Cajuns are an exact opposite, even though the likely starting trio of freshmen Evan Guillory (1-0, 5.03) and Gunner Leger (2-0, 3.57) and senior Greg Milhorn (0-0, 4.34) are each working on a streak of three solid starts.
The balance of the staff has a combined 2.56 mark, and the bullpen allowed nine hits, three earned runs and fanned 31 in 21.1 innings last week.
Over the last 12 games, the bullpen has surrendered only seven earned runs in 60 innings.
Freshman Dylan Moore allowed one hit and fanned seven in five weekend innings in two games against Troy, while junior Will Bacon threw five hitless innings and struck out six in the middle game.
Junior Colton Lee struck out nine in 3.2 innings Friday, and that trio and Lafayette freshman Wyatt Marks have emerged as bullpen stoppers.
Of the starting three and that quartet, only one — Milhorn — was a member of last year’s squad, and he’s a question mark this weekend because of arm inflammation that flared during last Sunday’s win.
Robichaux’s only problem is finding enough work for the rest of the Cajun staff. The cancellations of Tuesday’s home game against UNO and Wednesday’s road game at Southern deprived the Cajuns of that opportunity.
“Playing with a young team, it’s good to throw more pitchers,” he said. “That’s the thing that hurts this week. Those guys have gotten out of the chute and done very well for us. But we also have other guys that will come on, and they’ve got to get more innings under their belt. We have some more guys that need to throw. But it is what it is, you can’t control the weather.”
Junior catcher Nick Thurman and junior shortstop and Sun Belt Player of the Week Blake Trahan continued their hot hitting over the weekend. Thurman (.426) had three extra-base hits against Troy while Trahan went 6-for-10 without a single – five doubles and a home run – to reach the .400 mark