One week ago, Louisiana-Lafayette was the only unbeaten among Sun Belt Conference teams that had opened their 2015 conference schedule.
Now they’ll face the league’s only remaining unbeaten, as the Ragin’ Cajuns look to right the ship after a “lost weekend” with a three-game series at Georgia State.
The Cajuns (10-7, 3-2 Sun Belt) and the Panthers (13-7, 2-0) open play at 5 p.m. Friday at the GSU Baseball Complex after the teams went in opposite directions during a rain-soaked weekend.
Both teams had their three-day, three-game league series reduced to a Sunday doubleheader one week ago. GSU took advantage, surprising Arkansas State 5-4 in 12 innings and 6-3 taking the middle games of what was a four-game GSU win streak.
At exactly the same time Sunday, UL-Lafayette was watching vanishing early leads and disastrous late rallies, as Arkansas-Little Rock scored in the bottom of the ninth innings in both games in taking 5-4 and 7-6 victories. The Cajuns had won six in a row before being unceremoniously dumped into the middle of the early Sun Belt standings.
“Everybody was feeling good about the six-game win streak,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said, “but that was a unique stretch and we didn’t handle it well. I’m not happy where we’re at but I’m glad we went through that.
“In winning streaks, everybody wants to be a team player — but when you get thumped two times, do you still want that? We have to go through this with a young team to get weathered and get tougher.”
Things figure to be just as tough this weekend. The Panthers have won six of their last eight and nine of their last 12 including the two-game Sun Belt sweep at ASU Sunday, and GSU leads the Sun Belt in scoring (6.6 runs per game), home runs (16) and slugging percentage (.428). National Player of the Week Ryan Blanton was 11-for-16 in three games last week including three homers.
At the same time, the Panthers bullpen threw 9.2 scoreless innings and had a win and a save in the sweep at ASU. For the season, GSU’s pen is 6-1 with six saves and a 3.53 ERA.
The bullpen had been the Cajuns’ strong suit until Sunday’s struggles. That unit had allowed only seven earned runs in 63.2 innings since the opening weekend, and even with Sunday’s numbers the bullpen has an 0.99 combined ERA in the last 14 games.
“We’re not going to get jumpy over rainouts or two losses,” said Robichaux, whose team is playing back-to-back weekend road series for the only time this year. “We’re going to get those guys back out there and not change anything. The only thing we did is the intrasquad games during the week since we had no mid-week games.”
That means the freshman duo of right-hander Evan Guillory (1-0, 5.26) and left-hander Gunner Leger (2-0, 3.58) will get the Friday and Saturday calls. Senior right-hander Greg Milhorn (0-0, 4.34), who was held out against UALR as a precaution after arm soreness, is the Cajuns’ probable Sunday starter.
If nothing else, the Panthers will throw one of the tallest rotations the Cajuns will face this season. Georgia State, which lost three games to UL-Lafayette by a combined 27-12 score in its first Sun Belt season and in the teams’ first-ever meetings last spring, will start 6-foot-7 junior right-hander Nathan Bates (2-0, 2.67) in Friday’s opener. Senior lefty Kenny Anderson (2-1, 3.67) is set for Saturday and 6-foot-4 junior right-hander Cole Uvila (0-2, 4.35) will get the Sunday start.
GSU had its four-game win streak snapped Wednesday in a 7-3 loss at Savannah State, but has scored double-figure runs in six of its 15 home games.
“We’re going to be playing a good team that’s been playing well,” Robichaux said. “They don’t have a big park and they use it to their advantage, and we’re there for the first time.”