One of Louisiana-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux’s mantras is for his team to learn to win in different manners.
Over the past five games, the Ragin’ Cajuns have learned that lesson, and now will take a five-game win streak and the top position in the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division into their weekend series.
In the season-high streak, UL-Lafayette (23-14-1, 10-4-1) won three games with physical offensive attacks, averaging 13 hits per game in two victories over Arkansas State and a Wednesday home win over Southeastern Louisiana. In those games, the Cajuns outscored their opponents 30-4.
The other two games? One came on a bottom of the ninth suicide squeeze that provided a 3-2 win in Sunday’s sweep of the Red Wolves. Then, Tuesday in New Orleans, the Cajuns got only two hits, neither of them figuring in the scoring, and used four straight walks from Tulane pitchers in the first inning for the only run in a 1-0 victory over the Green Wave.
But even with those offensive hiccups, Robichaux is happy with an offensive attack that has upped its team batting average by 30 points, to .275, over the past three weeks — not to mention a defense that has committed one error in the five wins.
“There’s some nights that our hitters have had to pick us up,” Robichaux said. “We’ve played good defense, and our hitters deserve a lot of credit for giving our pitchers the success they’ve had. Our pitchers know they don’t have to go out there and strike everyone out.”
Even with that backing, Robichaux’s pitchers have done just that. Arkansas State, which had averaged nine runs per game over a nine-game stretch entering last weekend, was held to four runs and 16 total hits in three games by a Cajuns staff that has more strikeouts than all but three teams in the country.
Over the past 49 innings, UL-Lafayette’s staff has allowed six runs (a 1.10 ERA) and 32 hits, an average of less than six per nine innings. An eighth-inning run by SLU in Wednesday’s 9-2 Cajun win snapped a streak of 22 2/3 scoreless innings by that group.
Entering this weekend, the Cajuns lead the nation in shutouts (eight), are second in fewest hits allowed (6.6 per nine innings) fourth in strikeouts (10.1 per nine innings) and 13th in team ERA (3.09). Friday night starter and junior left-hander Gunner Leger (7-1, 0.95 ERA) is third nationally in wins and fourth nationally in ERA, and junior reliever Wyatt Marks leads the nation in fewest hits allowed (3.71 per nine innings) and ranks second in strikeouts (15.25 per nine innings).
“If you want to be competitive every night, that starts with pitching,” Robichaux said. “Being able to pitch really takes the pressure off our hitters, and our hitters have really responded since about the halfway point.”
The Cajuns will take those numbers on the road Friday to open a Sun Belt series at Little Rock (14-23, 6-9), which lost two of three at UT Arlington last weekend and saw an early lead vanish in a Wednesday 10-6 home loss to Louisiana Tech.
The Trojans have a couple of dangerous hitters in their lineup going into Friday’s 6 p.m. opener at Gary Hogan Field. Outfielder Hunter Owens ranks fourth in the Sun Belt in hitting (.369) and preseason league Player of the Year Dalton Thomas is hitting .300 with 13 doubles, four homers and 22 RBI.
That pair played a big role in UALR scoring 17 runs in the final two games of last year’s series, when the Trojans took two of three and stand as the last team to win a series from UL-Lafayette. Since then, the Cajuns are unbeaten in 17 weekend series.
“We’ve been playing with more aggressiveness and more confidence,” Robichaux said of the team’s 9-3-1 streak in its last 13 games. “We’ve pitched well and we’ve played good defense, and our hitters have taken the pressure off.”
UL-Lafayette (23-14-1, 10-4-1) at Little Rock (14-23, 6-9)
6 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday
Gary Hogan Field, Little Rock, Ark.
RADIO: KPEL-FM 96.5
Thursday – UL-Lafayette, Gunner Leger (Jr., LH, 7-1, 0.95); LR, Cory Malcom (Sr., RH, 2-3, 2.58)
Friday – UL-Lafayette, Nick Lee (So., RH, 4-3, 5.26); LR, Ryan LeMoine (Jr., RH, 1-3, 7.85)
Saturday – UL-Lafayette, Hogan Harris (So., LH, 3-0, 2.58); LR, Chandler Fidel (Fr., LH, 2-5, 5.23)