LAFAYETTE — Only five players on the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team, and only one pitcher, have ever played at Troy’s Riddle-Pace Field.
That’s a concern for Ragin’ Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux as his team heads into a key Sun Belt Conference series against the Trojans.
“That’s not an easy place to pitch in,” Robichaux said. “They have a small park and the wind blows out. It just plays small, and that’s tough on pitchers.”
The Cajuns (27-3, 8-1) open the three-game series at 6 p.m. Friday, and Robichaux is hoping his second-ranked squad avoids the slugfest of the Cajuns’ last Sun Belt weekend. UL-Lafayette took two of three from Western Kentucky in that home series, but lost the opener 14-3 and had to survive a 10-9 battle in the second game.
That’s not the style the Cajuns would rather play — even though they’re coming off a 22-hit performance in Tuesday’s 16-0 shellacking of Tulane and they’ve scored double-digit runs in four of their last six games. Those efforts have boosted UL-Lafayette atop the Sun Belt in hitting with a .319 average, along with a .359 average in Sun Belt play.
Robichaux would rather pitch and play defense, and that’s what UL-Lafayette did in sweeping its first two league series. This weekend’s games will be the first Sun Belt road outings for the Cajuns since they knocked UL-Monroe around by a combined 39-4 score in the conference openers.
“To think you can go out every night and hit your way through, that’s a misnomer,” Robichaux said. “We caught a hot team in Western Kentucky that swung the bat well, and we were fortunate that we were at home. But this weekend should be good for us ... you have to be good on the road, and we have been up to this point.”
The Cajuns have been road good — as in perfect, with a 10-0 record away from M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field. Tuesday’s win over the Green Wave wrapped up a nine-game homestand, and UL-Lafayette had played only one road game since mid-March.
The Trojans, in a scheduling quirk, came to Lafayette to play in each of the last two seasons. The last time UL-Lafayette went to Troy was during the 2011 season, when the Trojans (16-13, 4-4) took two of three in the series.
The Friday and Saturday games should provide solid pitching matchups. UL-Lafayette junior right-hander Austin Robichaux (4-2, 2.92), the Sun Belt preseason Pitcher of the Year, will square off against Troy senior right-hander Tanner Hicks (2-4, 3.35), who was 8-4 last year as the Friday night starter.
Last year’s Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year, Troy lefty Shane McCain (3-2, 1.93), leads the league in ERA and will face the pitcher with the conference’s best record in Cajuns junior right-hander Carson Baranik (6-0, 2.28) in Saturday’s Sun Belt Network-televised 3 p.m. game.
Senior left-hander Cody Boutte (3-0, 4.61) will get UL-Lafayette’s Sunday start for the fourth straight conference series, with Greg Milhorn still sidelined because of a torn oblique muscle, and goes against Troy junior right-hander Ben Tidwell (0-0, 3.42).
“We want to try to get back on track pitching,” Robichaux said. “We need to bring the same mentality we had last Sunday (a 7-4 win in the series finale), after we got caught in two firefights on Saturday. We have a team that can hang in, and they came back Sunday and played more realistic baseball.
The Cajuns are ranked second nationally by Collegiate Baseball and rank fourth in the Baseball America, Perfect Game and NCBWA polls and fifth in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll.
UL-Lafayette is the highest-ranked team to play at Riddle-Pace Field since Troy moved to the Division I ranks in 1994.
The Trojans lost two of three at Georgia State last weekend in a Sun Belt series, but have won two in a row after knocking off state rival UAB 7-2 on Tuesday in Birmingham. Troy won two of three over ULM in their only previous home conference series this year.