LAFAYETTE — Lost in the excitement of Louisiana-Lafayette’s first NCAA national seed was the Ragin’ Cajuns’ rise to the top spot in every major college baseball poll this week.
The Cajuns are ranked No. 1 in the Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and USA Today coaches polls this week, moving up from No. 2 last week.
Oregon State, which was atop all four polls last week, lost two of three games at USC in its final Pac-12 Conference weekend series. OSU also lost a midweek game at Oregon during the week.
The move marked the first time that the UL-Lafayette program had ever been ranked No. 1 by Baseball America and the collegiate baseball writers. The Cajuns made it to the top spot in the Collegiate Baseball and coaches polls earlier this spring, which marked the school’s first ever ranking atop a Division I poll in a major sport.
Cajuns junior second baseman Jace Conrad and sophomore pitcher Connor Toups have a leg up on their teammates in World Series experience — albeit a different type of World Series.
Conrad and Toups were members of the Lafayette Little League team that won state and regional titles and advanced to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the Little League World Series in August 2005. Conrad was a pitcher and shortstop, and Toups was a first baseman and pitcher on the team that went 2-1 in pool play and advanced to the eight-team elimination round. The squad was knocked out by eventual finalist Ewa, Hawaii, in the U.S. semifinals.
“I don’t know if that will help me or not,” Conrad said of his previous World Series experience, “but it does help me remember that it’s not just about me. I remember the crowds that were up there, and now we’ve got 4,000 of our fans every game.”
That team also included Andrew Stevenson, a starting outfielder on the NCAA Regional-host LSU squad; Andreas Duplantis, an All-American pole vaulter on the LSU track and field team; and Tulane defensive back Sam Scofield, who led the Green Wave in tackles last year.
And an Omaha veteran
If UL-Lafayette does advance through the regional and super regional rounds and earns its second berth in the College World Series, the trip will be the second to TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, in less than a year for junior outfielder Caleb Adams.
Adams was one of eight players selected to take part in last July’s College Home Run Derby, which was held one week after the College World Series. The Texarkana, Texas, native had 16 homers last year in earning that selection, but did not advance past the first round at Ameritrade Park — which gave up only three total homers in last year’s CWS.
This year, Adams has 11 home runs but improved his other offensive numbers dramatically. He ranks third nationally in slugging percentage (.711), fifth in on-base percentage (.504), sixth in triples (seven, one off the national lead), eighth in runs scored (63) and 10th in total bases (140).
Not just slugging
The Cajuns take some eye-popping numbers into the Lafayette Regional, including the country’s best team slugging percentage (.500) and the most triples (29). UL-Lafayette also ranks second nationally in team batting average at .317, runs scored with 476, doubles with 128 and home runs with 63, and is third nationally with 650 hits.
The squad could also move up in some of those categories during the NCAA tournament, as some teams ahead of them in certain categories did not make the NCAA field. For example, Tennessee Tech (655) and New Mexico (654) are ahead of the Cajuns in hits, but neither is in the tournament and UL-Lafayette needs six hits to take over the national lead.
However, Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said those numbers are deceiving.
“A lot of times people look at our statistics hitting-wise and they expect us to come out and beat somebody 13-0, but that’s not baseball,” he said Monday. “Those hitters still fail 70 percent of the time, even though they’re very good hitters, so we have had to learn how to win many different ways.
“That’s the one thing I’m proud of about this team: They have learned how to handle many different things. We gave up seven runs in an inning one game this year and still came back to win. And early in the year we scored one run in nine innings, and our pitchers threw a shutout (a 1-0 win over visiting Eastern Illinois in the season’s second game). All year long, everybody has been picking each other up. That’s why we’re where we are.”
UL-Lafayette was not shut out all year. The Cajuns scored one run in each of their first two games of the year, falling 5-1 on opening night to Eastern Illinois one day before the 1-0 win, and scored at least two runs in each of the past 58 games. The team was held to two runs only twice, taking 2-0 wins over Alabama and Texas State.