Cajuns’ departing upperclassmen leave leadership holes to fill for some talented newcomers _lowres

Advocate Photo by LEE CELANO - University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux and catcher Nick Thurman

Editor’s note: This is the third story in a three-part series on the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team as it looks to next season. Today, the focus is on the newcomers.

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LAFAYETTE — Out with the old, in with the new.

That’s a refrain heard nationwide from college baseball coaches this time of year, and it’s no different for Louisiana-Lafayette’s Tony Robichaux, who is replacing five seniors and at least one junior with a pool of new talent.

Talentwise, Robichaux likes what he has coming in. He has two of the state’s top prep pitchers in left-hander Hogan Harris and righty Nick Lee, and he has added some pop with LSU-Eunice’s Steven Sensley and Evangel Christian’s Ryne Ray.

“I’m not that worried,” Robichaux said about how his 2016 roster is shaping up. “I like what’s coming in.”

Start with the pitching. The 2015 freshman class was one of the best, if not the best, freshman classes in Robichaux’s tenure.

By the end of the season, the Cajuns’ weekend rotation was full of freshmen: Gunner Leger, Wyatt Marks and Evan Guillory. Another freshman, Dylan Moore, earned Freshman All-America honors after setting a school single-season record with 13 saves.

That’s a high standard to live up to, but the Cajuns’ incoming class looks like it could have some studs as well.

Lee is a 6-foot-4 righty out of South Beauregard High who was the only Cajuns signee to make Baseball America’s top-500 draft-eligible players list, checking in at No. 177.

There were some questions about whether he’d make it to campus, but he was not selected in the draft, possibly because teams thought he was not signable.

Lee’s fastball has been recorded as high as 95 mph, according to his Perfect Game profile, and while his velocity dipped somewhat in his senior season, he should still bring an impressive repertoire to the Cajuns as a freshman.

Viewed by some as a potential first-round pick before his senior season, Harris slipped on some draft boards as his fastball velocity also fell in his final year at St. Thomas More. Despite the dip in velocity, Harris still showed lights-out stuff. He fired three no-hitters as a senior and struck out 76 while allowing just eight hits in 42 innings.

Much like Stefan Trosclair, another LSU-Eunice product, Sensley could step in and contribute right away for the Cajuns. Sensley was the only Cajuns signee to be drafted, but he’s not likely to sign after the Tampa Bay Rays took him in the 38th round.

He hit 21 home runs while batting .374 for LSUE’s national champion team this season. He’s built like a linebacker, which makes sense since that’s what he played at University High in Baton Rouge.

Sensley is transferring to the Cajuns after just one season at LSUE, meaning he would have three years of eligibility with the Cajuns. Robichaux likes what both Sensley and Howard College transfer Ishmael Edwards bring to the table physically.

Ray could be the Cajuns’ future at catcher after he hit nearly .400 for Evangel Christian during its run to the state semifinals. Ray was one of the players the Cajuns were keeping an eye on heading into the draft, but he also went undrafted.

But with baseball, restoring talent levels is not always going to yield the same results.

The departing players showed Robichaux this season that leadership was of paramount importance in the team’s return to the NCAA tournament’s super regional round. That might be the most difficult thing to replace.

“I’m not worried as much about the talent being replaced as much as we’re going to have to work real hard on the team chemistry and the leadership,” Robichaux said. “That’s what’s tough to replace. You can replace a good third baseman with a good third baseman, but maybe the other third baseman was a good leader.

“Last year’s seniors, I gave them a lot of credit. They left us with some high standards.”