LAFAYETTE — In a do-or-die situation last week, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette baseball team went all-in with its pitching staff, and the tactic resulted in a Sun Belt Conference tournament championship and a ticket to the NCAA tournament.
Now the Ragin’ Cajuns get to figure out how to do it all over again at this weekend’s regional tournament in Houston, where the Cajuns could play as many as five games in four days.
“We took some experience out of it, which I think is good. And if we have to grind it out again, I think they’re ready to grind it out again,” coach Tony Robichaux said.
After losing their first game of the SBC tournament, the Cajuns needed some masterful performances from members of their pitching staff to win their next five games. In some cases, they needed those performances multiple times.
Gunner Leger threw 194 pitches in 13.2 innings last week, Greg Milhorn threw 117 in 8.2, Wyatt Marks threw 134 in 7.1, and closer Dylan Moore threw 108 in 5.2.
All of those totals are greater than their normal weekly workloads — in some cases much greater.
Milhorn said his arm was still sore Tuesday after he threw 44 pitches in four scoreless relief innings Sunday, but he then said soreness isn’t out of the ordinary in the few days after an appearance.
With at least five days between appearances, Milhorn said he and the rest of the staff should be ready to go whenever their names are called, as long as they’re smart about their preparation.
“We just need to let our bodies rest. It normally takes a couple days for you to bounce back,” Milhorn said. “But after five days, I think we should be good.”
But pitchers are also creatures of habit. Their schedule is normally rigid, with certain days set aside for certain types of work, whether it’s throwing a bullpen or lifting weights or running.
The regional format throws a wrench in the normal week’s routine. The team’s travel and practice schedule will be different than a typical week’s, and the order of the rotation and bullpen assignments could fluctuate based on how the tournament plays out.
“It’ll be different, but we don’t want to use it as an excuse,” Marks said.
The pitchers are simply focused on recharging their bodies for the week ahead.
“We lifted yesterday and kind of flushed out some of it,” Moore said Tuesday. “Today we did a bunch of running and explosive stuff, and that really helps us speed up the recovery process.”
At this stage of the season, pitching depth can be a deciding factor. The regional tournament is a lot like the conference tournament, Milhorn said. The key is striking a balance between conserving as many fresh arms as possible and winning the game.
“You want to stay out of that losers’ bracket and just pitch,” Milhorn said. “You try to save as many arms as you can, but you can’t save and get yourself run out of a game.”
Robichaux already has ruled out Leger for the regional opener against Rice after he threw eight sterling innings in the championship game; he said he likely will decide between Milhorn and freshman Evan Guillory for the regional opener.
The good thing for the Cajuns is that Robichaux said he feels he has plenty of options, and he doesn’t think he’ll be handcuffed by a pitcher’s recovery timetable. It might even work out to the team’s benefit if the chips fall right.
“I trust anybody else we run out there,” Robichaux said. “I trust Milhorn totally; he’s been throwing really good. I trust Evan Guillory. I trust Marks. It might work out for us, the deeper we get in the tournament: (Leger) might be at the end of something. Wouldn’t that be nice to have a guy like that at the end?”