Cajuns’ surging offense takes on sturdy Southeastern pitching _lowres

Advocate photo by LEE CELANO --- UL-Lafayette's Evan Powell scores past Jackson State catcher Jovany Felipe earlier this month in Lafayette. The Cajuns offense has averaged 8.5 runs in the past 10 games.

HAMMOND — The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s awakened bats made a believer out of Texas State last weekend. In fact, since the midpoint of the season two weeks ago, the Ragin’ Cajuns have made believers out of most teams.

The notable exception to that is Southeastern Louisiana, which held the Cajuns in check in a 5-3 win in Lafayette one week ago. UL-Lafayette will look for an equalizer Tuesday night when the Cajuns (23-15) start a rugged stretch of seven games in a nine-day period.

But Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said he is looking forward to the challenge.

“This team needs to keep playing,” Robichaux said Monday. “What they’ve been able to do is learn a lot through losses and learn to respond, and that’s half the battle. The more experience they get, the better off we are.”

The Cajuns haven’t had many losses to learn from recently. They’ve won eight of their past 10 entering a week that includes Tuesday’s rematch at SLU’s Alumni Field, a Wednesday home battle against a Southern team they pounded 14-1 in Baton Rouge two weeks ago, and a weekend Sun Belt Conference home series against Texas-Arlington.

That stretch will be followed by five more games the following week, but Robichaux said the multitude of games will help season his young pitching staff even more. Of the nine pitchers UL-Lafayette used in the weekend 2-1 series win at Texas State, six of them, including all three starters, were first-year freshmen. That’s a first in Robichaux’s memory banks.

“I’d probably remember running three freshmen out there, what that does to your blood pressure,” he said. “But I think they’ve picked up the pitching system really good. Daniel Freeman (volunteer assistant coach) has done a good job behind the scenes with them, and they’re in a comfortable environment that’s allowed them to grow.”

That comfort stems from the offensive attack the Cajuns have mounted since the 28-game midpoint of the 56-game regular season. In those 10 games, UL-Lafayette is averaging 8.5 runs per game including four outings of 11 or more runs, and the Cajuns have double-figure hits in eight of their past nine games. They’ve also homered 15 times in those 10 games after getting 17 home runs in the season’s first 28 games.

That hitting was on display at Texas State, when UL-Lafayette won 11-3 in Saturday’s weather-forced doubleheader opener and took a run-rule, 13-3 Sunday win, sandwiched around a 10-4 loss in Saturday’s second game.

“When I talked to (Texas State coach Ty Harrington), he knew what we’d lost from last year, and he didn’t envision us coming in there and scoring that many runs,” Robichaux said. “The second game, that’s what freshmen can do to you. We’re not a team that can give up 10 runs and fight back out of it like we were last year. But for the most part, our pitchers have kept the games where we needed it.”

That was the case last Tuesday, when starter Eric Carter and reliever Will Bacon held the Lions (30-11) to three hits through seven innings before Southeastern pushed across three runs in the eighth. All three scored after a botched double-play ground ball.

“SLU was a winnable game,” Robichaux said. “All we had to do was turn that double play.”

That win was the first in a 4-0 week for the Lions, who swept a weekend home series against McNeese State and moved into first place in the Southland Conference, reaching the 30-win mark at the earliest point in school history. Southeastern had double-figure hits in both of Sunday’s 15-4 and 9-2 runaway wins.

Junior right-hander Pat Cashman (3-3), who allowed nine hits but held the Cajuns to two runs last Tuesday, is scheduled to start of Southeastern. Bacon (1-1, 3.76), a junior right-hander and former Parkview Baptist standout, will get his second career start against Southeastern, and Carter (1-1, 3.65) will start against Southern. Bt Robichaux said several pitchers will likely get work in both games.

“We’ll throw guys over those two days and stay as sharp as we can in the midweek to get them ready for the weekend,” he said.