LAFAYETTE — Dylan Butler may have been joking about his excitement to hit in the thin air of Boone, North Carolina, this weekend against Appalachian State.
Then again, he might not have been.
“I’ve been thinking about it for awhile,” Butler said with a smile that didn’t let in on whether he was serious. “I need to get my numbers up.”
But as always, there are two sides to the coin for the Cajuns (29-15, 13-7) as they try to keep their winning streak — currently at a season-high seven games — going against Sun Belt Conference newcomer Appalachian State (13-33, 5-18).
Somebody’s got to throw the ball, too.
“Thin air means thick skin,” coach Tony Robichaux said. “That’s it in a nutshell.”
This isn’t the Cajuns’ first rodeo at a park that has trouble containing the ball.
They went into Texas State a couple weeks ago and played all three games with the wind howling out over the fence. The Cajuns came away with two wins, seven home runs, 28 runs scored and some valuable experience for their young pitching staff.
Two of the Cajuns’ three freshman starting pitchers handled the elements well in Gunner Leger and Wyatt Marks. The other, Evan Guillory, saw how the elements can take hold of the game when he allowed two homers and four runs in three innings.
Marks, who fired a career-high 11 strikeouts against Texas State, found the best way to avoid getting a ball caught in the jetstream was to not allow it to touch a bat. That performance came on a day when the wind was blowing particularly hard and the Cajuns knocked five balls out of the park.
“Sometimes you can pitch against it,” Robichaux said. “A lot of teams will try to lift the ball on you. You look at Wyatt, he’s got 11 punchouts Sunday with the wind blowing out.”
With senior Greg Milhorn still working his way back from a groin injury, the Cajuns will send the three freshman starters out for the third consecutive weekend.
Drawing on those experiences should help them this weekend, Robichaux said, but it is all dependent on how the pitchers attack the strike zone and how well the defense plays behind them.
“You’ve got to watch out in ball parks like that: walk, error, now one home run,” Robichaux said. “That’s a big difference between a solo home run and a walk and an error and a home run, that’s a three-run jack.”
The hitters may be licking their chops — Robichaux said they often are the first ones to know if the weather forecast is calling for a stiff wind the right direction — but they also know they can’t try to force the issue.
“We always say you’ve got to be bought in,” Butler said. “Stick to your approach, hard ground balls through the middle, and things will elevate whenever they want to. That’s what everybody has to do — don’t try to get big, stick to your approach and the home runs will come.
If the Cajuns execute the brand of baseball they aim to play, it could result in their continued ascent of the SBC standings.
With seven consecutive wins, including four straight in league play, the Cajuns enter the weekend with the best overall record in the conference, and they’re just percentage points behind Georgia State for the conference lead.
The other two teams bunched at the top of the standings, Georgia Southern and South Alabama, play each other this weekend in Statesboro, Georgia.
“We set our goals in the beginning — 50-plus (wins) or Sun Belt Conference Champions,” Butler said. “We’re going to work to that goal. We’re playing good baseball right now, we’re not going to take anything for granted or do anything that we’re not supposed to be doing.
“We’re going to keep playing hard-nosed baseball ... and see what happens at the end of the day.”