LAFAYETTE — Momentum has definitely changed jerseys since the last time the Louisiana-Lafayette and Nicholls State baseball teams attempted to play each other.
When the teams were rained out at Ray E. Didier Field two weeks ago, the Ragin’ Cajuns were on a decent roll with a six-game winning streak, and the Colonels had just dropped two of three to Southland Conference rival McNeese State.
Things will be different Tuesday night when — weather-permitting — the clubs make up that game and play their final nonconference games at 6 p.m. in Thibodaux.
The Cajuns (31-19) have lost their past two Sun Belt Conference series — at struggling Appalachian State and at home this past weekend to league front-runner South Alabama — and are 3-4 since that postponement. Nicholls has won eight in a row since the rainout and has swept its past two SLC series, against Houston Baptist and UNO.
The Colonels (32-16-1) can’t win the Southland regular-season title, but they can finish second with a sweep at Northwestern State this weekend.
“This is a good team, and they’re playing well,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said. “They’ve got a good RPI and we still have the best RPI in the league, so we have to protect that.”
The Cajuns are No. 58 in the RPI listings released Monday, down three spots from last week. The Colonels are No. 79, one spot below South Alabama.
UL-Lafayette is in a similar position. The Cajuns assured themselves of one of the eight spots in next week’s Sun Belt tournament in Troy, Alabama, with Sunday’s 3-2 win over USA. They can finish as high as second in the league after this weekend’s Thursday-Saturday series at UL-Monroe, depending on the rest of the league results.
“Our guys played well pitching and defense-wise,” Robichaux said of the USA series. “We never could get a timely hit before Sunday. ... That did us in. We had many, many opportunities to get those timely hits and didn’t. South Alabama pitches well and plays good defense, so you have to give credit to our freshman arms to get in there and pitch without a little run support.”
Freshman starters Gunner Leger, Evan Guillory and Wyatt Marks pitched a combined 21 innings over the weekend without walking a batter, and none gave up more than two runs. That staff also got a boost from the Sunday return of senior Greg Milhorn, who pitched for the first time in a month and got the win with two innings of one-hit ball.
The Cajuns did get one clutch hit on the weekend: Brenn Conrad’s eighth-inning, two-run single provided the tying and winning runs Sunday.
“What we have to do is keep pitching and playing defense, and not focus completely on getting our hitting going,” said Robichaux, whose club has dropped five spots in the Sun Belt batting rankings to .276. “These guys are older guys, and they’re going to give us something before it’s over.”
Nicholls State took a 3-1 win in Lafayette on March 25 without scoring an earned run, taking advantage of four Cajuns errors.
UL-Lafayette will start junior right-hander Will Bacon (3-2) against the Colonels, who will counter with junior righty Marc Frazier (3-5). The Cajuns are expected to throw several pitchers in preparation for the early start of the week’s conference series.
That staff will have to deal with Colonels junior Kyle Reese, who leads the Southland in hitting (.378) and slugging (.537) and is on a 15-game hitting streak.