UL-Lafayette continues to struggle at the plate, but the Ragin’ Cajuns have been able to find ways to claim some wins without a potent hitting attack.
That gets more difficult this weekend.
The Cajuns (3-5), coming off a Wednesday 2-1 win over Nicholls in which they were no-hit through five innings and finished with four hits, will face three Southeastern Conference teams in short order this weekend in the Shriners College Classic at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.
First up are the Mississippi State Bulldogs (3-5) at 7 p.m. Friday, the first day of the six-team tournament.
The Cajuns then face Vanderbilt (9-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Kentucky (8-1) at 11 a.m. Sunday.
No game will be easy, said UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux, especially for a club that’s hitting .172 and has had more than six hits in only one game this season.
“It’s always an honor and a privilege to play in the tournament there,” said Robichaux, whose team is making its fourth appearance at Minute Maid and its second in three seasons. “But it’s three very good teams we’ll have to deal with.”
Robichaux’s team will have to deal with Mississippi State without him Friday, as he will sit out the second game of a two-game suspension handed out by the Sun Belt Conference stemming from Sunday’s 4-3 loss to Wright State.
Robichaux was ejected from that game for arguing a home run call that was reversed to a double, and continued to argue after being ejected, resulting in an NCAA-mandated suspension.
The Cajuns will also deal with the absence of regular weekend starter Hogan Harris (0-0, 0.00). The junior left-hander left in the third inning in the final game of the season-opening series at Texas with a strained oblique.
“He wants to be back and we want him back,” Robichaux said. “But he’s also a guy lining up to go into the major league draft, and you don’t want it to turn into something like a real arm injury rather than an oblique. We’re going to stay really cautious with him. We need him where we’re at right now, but we’re going to shoot for the following week.”
That will leave junior right-hander Nick Lee (0-0, 3.27) and sophomore right-hander Jack Burk (0-2, 4.09) for the Friday and Saturday starts, with Sunday’s starter against the Wildcats to be determined.
Also still out is starting catcher Handsome Monica, who twisted a knee in the opener at Texas and has not played since.
Monica’s absence has added to the team’s hitting woes. The Cajuns had 11 hits in Sunday’s loss to Wright State and didn’t have a hit Wednesday until Daniel Lahare’s bloop double with one out in the sixth inning.
UL-Lafayette did score a fourth-inning run on a walk to Lahare, a two-base throwing error and a sacrifice fly, and the Cajuns strung together two hits in an inning for only the fifth time this season in the seventh when Gavin Bourgeois’ two-out single provided the eventual winning run.
“Our challenge to the guys was to get tougher,” associate head coach Anthony Babineaux said after Wednesday’s win. “We want them to make every at-bat personal, and we got a little better at that tonight. The hit column on the scoreboard didn’t show it, but we had some good at-bats, some hard-hit balls, and that was good to see.”
Lahare added: “We just needed to get out of our own heads. We need to relax and stay competitive at the plate. It’s all about approach. it has nothing to do with our swings.”
Mississippi State has struggles of its own going into Friday’s game. The Bulldogs have lost their last two, including a 6-3 loss at McNeese State on Wednesday, and are still reeling from the abrupt resignation of coach Andy Cannizaro on Feb. 20 amid reports of an extramarital affair. State had lost all three games in a season-opening series at Southern Miss before Cannizaro’s sudden departure.
Junior left-hander Konnor Pilkington (1-1, 2.00) is expected to get start Friday for the Bulldogs.