LAFAYETTE — They didn’t necessarily want to admit it, but with all they lost from last year’s team, the UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns knew they would have to go through some adversity to find their identity this season.
“Coming into the season, we knew we might struggle a little early, just because of the lack of experience,” said junior shortstop Blake Trahan.
That was true in the first few weeks of the year. The Cajuns lost two of three in their season-opening series against UTSA on the road, and missed opportunity after opportunity in a 17-inning midweek loss to McNeese.
Going into last week’s Alabama series, they were a game under .500 and still seeking some answers. It seems, for now, that they found them.
The Cajuns (7-5) won the final two games of the Alabama series and soundly defeated Northwestern State this week to enter their conference opener against Troy (7-5) on a three-game winning streak.
“This is where we are now,” Trahan said. “Hopefully we can get rolling now. Going into conference, I think the tone has been set right.”
Unlike the Cajuns, the Trojans started the season off hot, winning seven of their first nine games while limiting their opponents to just 23 runs in those contests. But they enter the weekend on a three-game losing skid, during which they’ve allowed five, six and 12 runs.
Troy brings a potent lineup to Lafayette, with six regulars hitting .300 or better through the first 12 games of the year. First baseman Trevin Hall leads the way with a .405 average, and he is one of three players tied for the team lead with nine RBI.
But Troy’s best weapons might come in the form of their 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation in newcomers Corey Childress (2-0, 1.35) and Grant Bennett (2-0, 0.90), both of whom are among the league leaders in ERA for starting pitchers.
Childress is a right-handed freshman from Fairhope, Alaska. Bennett also comes from the right side, and pitched at Wallace State-Hanceville Community College last season. The two earned runs Bennett gave up in his last start against Southern Miss were the first earned runs he’s allowed this season.
But the Cajuns have their own talented newcomers to counter with.
The Cajuns will send two freshman pitchers to the mound as starters this weekend, with Evan Guillory slated to start Friday and Gunner Leger Sunday. Senior right-hander Greg Milhorn will take the bump in the Saturday slot.
Leger is making his official debut as a full-time member of the weekend rotation, after he stifled the Alabama bats for eight one-run innings last week. Coach Tony Robichaux wanted to bring Leger along slowly this season, but Leger has forced his hand.
“We really thought he could probably be a weekend starter, but we felt we had to get to it,” Robichaux said. “He was just coming out of the fall, it’s tough to just hand somebody something. We really didn’t know what we had coming out of the fall. We thought we knew, but until you start playing, you really don’t know.”
The Cajuns bats have also started to come alive as of late. Trahan has reached base in nine of his last 12 plate appearances, and has a .583 batting average (7-for-12) during the Cajuns three-game win streak. With Trahan effectively setting the table, the Cajuns have pounded out 35 hits in their last three games, scoring 28 runs in the process.
The Cajuns are still young, and that means they will likely take their lumps as the season progresses, but they like where they’re at currently.
“We’re right where we need to be — I don’t know if that’s where everybody expected us to be,” said senior first baseman Greg Davis. “I think our confidence is at an all-time high right now, and that’s all you need to be successful in this game.”