After playing five games in 94 hours last week, a four-game week almost will seem like a vacation for UL-Lafayette’s baseball team.
Of course, a five-games-in-five-days grind doesn’t seem nearly as long or as difficult when it’s part of a winning streak, and that’s what the Ragin’ Cajuns have continued since a proverbial reset at the midpoint of the regular season.
The Cajuns (20-17) have won eight of nine since that halfway mark of the 56-game season, including five and a row and their first Sun Belt Conference sweep of the season, last weekend at Appalachian State. That followed mid-week wins over McNeese State and Southeastern Louisiana. The sweep at App State included a Saturday doubleheader to avoid bad weather that rolled through North Carolina on Sunday.
“That was a good call they made to move it to a doubleheader,” said Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux, who moved into the NCAA’s top 35 in career coaching wins (1,135) with Saturday’s 5-4 and 6-2 wins. “That was a bad weather day, our flight out late Sunday got delayed, so I’m glad we moved it. And our guys did a great job, because it’s so tough to stay focused and win a doubleheader like that.”
More important, the three wins on Friday and Saturday moved UL-Lafayette back into the Sun Belt’s Western Division race. The Cajuns, who have won six of their past seven conference games, are 8-7 in league play, a game and a half behind the 9-5 West-leading mark of Little Rock — the team UL-Lafayette hosts in a three-game series Friday-Sunday at Russo Park.
The Cajuns have five conference series remaining, three of them at home and the two road series against Georgia State and Texas State teams with a combined 14-16 conference record. Before the weekend series against the Trojans, UL-Lafayette hosts Louisiana Tech at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the first of two meetings in the next week against a Bulldogs team ranked third nationally in ERA (2.56).
“Once you get into conference, it’s a grind,” Robichaux said. “You have to be prepared, and you can’t let the mid-week determine the weekend. Even if you’ve had success mid-week like we have (wins in eight of their past nine), you have to let that go and grab onto something else.
“Our guys have been really good in the second half of understanding what they need to do, let go of the peripheral and stay focused on the task at hand. They haven’t gotten caught up with a win or a loss and have kept doing what needs to be done week in and week out.”
NO CHANGES EXPECTED: Robichaux does not announce a rotation until after he meets with his pitching staff late Monday evening, but it is expected that freshman left-hander Austin Perrin (2-4) will get Wednesday’s start against Tech and that last weekend’s rotation of Colten Schmidt (4-0), Jack Burk (3-4) and Hogan Harris (2-1) will continue.
Perrin threw six strong innings in last Wednesday’s 4-3 11-inning win over SLU during a week that featured strong relief performances by previous starter Nick Lee and previously unused Michael Leaumont. Lee got two saves in the App State series, and Leaumont closed the third game after getting a win and a save against McNeese and SLU. Entering last week, Leaumont had thrown one-third of an inning all season.
Those two have helped cover the absence of closer Logan Stoelke, who has missed the past four games with a strained groin. Stoelke ranks second in the Sun Belt and 20th nationally with eight saves.
“Nick Lee stepped up for us and did what he needed to do for the team,” Robichaux said, “and Leaumont stepped up out of the pen. That was big for us.”
Stoelke is expected to be back in action for the Little Rock series.
“We’ve got the rotation set back up with Hogan in there now,” Robichaux said. “I don’t like doubleheaders because it can push pitchers; they can’t ice after game one because they may be on call again, and that took a day off rest off Hogan and from all the relievers.”
STILL BUNTING KINGS: UL-Lafayette had five sacrifice bunts this past week and continues to lead the nation with 39. The Cajuns are also 15th nationally in fielding (.980), and Schmidt is in the nation’s top 25 in three pitching categories — 13th in fewest walks, 15th in WHIP and 21st in strikeout-to-walk ratio.
UL-Lafayette moved up six spots to No. 74 in the RPI with the road sweep at Appalachian State. Wednesday foe La. Tech ranks 72nd, and four other Sun Belt teams are in the top 75 — Coastal Carolina (16), South Alabama (35), Troy (44) and Saturday foe Little Rock (53).