LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette’s baseball team has scored double-digit runs in five of its past six games, but Ragin’ Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux would rather not have to count on that streak continuing.
Instead, Robichaux wants his team to return to playing the style that helped UL-Lafayette put together win streaks of 10 and 14 games earlier in the season, and he’d like that to start this weekend when the top-ranked Cajuns welcome Arkansas-Little Rock for a Sun Belt series.
That three-game set begins at 6 p.m. Friday at Moore Field, with the Cajuns (31-4) leading the conference by three full games with an 11-1 mark entering the weekend. UALR is 3-9 in Sun Belt play and 13-17 overall, but the Trojans snapped a five-game loss streak by taking a 2-1 series win over Georgia State last weekend.
The Cajuns have already been in two slugfests this week, falling 8-7 to UNO at home on Tuesday — their first loss to a state team after 11 wins this year — and topping McNeese State 14-8 in Lake Charles on Wednesday. Those came on the heels of a Sun Belt series at Troy, where UL-Lafayette scored 15, 11 and 11 runs.
“That’s still way too many runs to give up in two games,” Robichaux said of the UNO and McNeese contests, “but you’ve got to credit our hitters for continuing to stay the course.”
The recent offensive outputs have boosted the Cajuns to the nation’s lead in runs (301), home runs (45) and slugging percentage (.541) along with a No. 4 ranking in hitting (.326).
“You just don’t want to put our hitters under too much duress,” Robichaux said. “The last few games, that’s too much.”
It doesn’t help that regular starter Austin Robichaux (4-2, 2.92 ERA) likely will miss his second straight Friday start in the series opener. Robichaux was scratched with a sore arm in last week’s Troy series, and is being held out as a precautionary measure.
That will again move junior righthander Carson Baranik (7-0, 2.65) into the Friday start, with UL-Lafayette expected to follow with the same rotation as last week’s Troy series. Senior lefthanders Ryan Wilson (4-0, 1.63) and Cody Boutte (4-0, 3.78) are scheduled for the Saturday 6 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. contests.
Baranik will face off with UALR senior lefty Travis McDonald (2-3, 3.93) on Friday. Sophomore righthander Sam Thoele (0-1, 0.89) and junior righthander Cameron Allen (3-2, 3.60), both of whom had stellar efforts against Georgia State last weekend, are slated for Saturday and Sunday.
Thoele allowed four hits and two runs while fanning nine in seven innings in a 3-2 loss. He will be making only his third start of the season. Allen threw a nine-inning five-hitter and also struck out nine in a 9-2 win.
Other than Austin Robichaux’s absence, the Cajuns pitching staff is starting to get healthy after some nagging injuries in the past few weeks. Greg Milhorn (3-1, 2.21), UL-Lafayette’s Sunday starter in the season’s first four weekends, threw the final three innings against McNeese on Wednesday after missing nearly a month with a pulled oblique muscle. Chris Charpentier, who had pitched only three innings all season due to tendinitis, threw 3.1 innings against the Cowboys and allowed only two hits.
“Those guys have confidence,” Tony Robichaux said. “That’s the difference in throwing and hoping, and throwing as if ‘I’m going to get you out.’ We did too much throwing and hoping with the other arms (in the loss to UNO).”
Junior second baseman Jace Conrad (.379) is on a 19-game hit streak — four short of the school-record 23-game streak of Chris Webb in 1996 — and has reached base in 25 straight games. Junior outfielder Caleb Adams, the Sun Belt’s top hitter with a .396 mark, has reached base in 29 straight games. Senior outfielder Seth Harrison (.365), named to the 50-man midseason Golden Spikes Award watch list by USA Baseball on Thursday, has reached in 21 straight games.