LAFAYETTE — UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux didn’t have to look far for an example of what solid pitching and defense can do for a team.
The Ragin’ Cajuns lost a 3-1 game to Nicholls State on Wednesday night, even though they didn’t allow a single earned run. In that game, the Cajuns committed four errors. Nicholls State committed none.
With a three-game series coming up against Arkansas State, Robichaux hopes his team was paying attention.
“Nicholls showed people the epitome of how important pitching and defense are,” Robichaux said. “They pitched, they played defense, didn’t score one earned run and they win a ballgame on the road. That’s hard to do, but you can do that when somebody gives you free runs. “That’s the one thing we’ve got to do during the weekend — shore ourselves up defensively.”
The Cajuns (13-9, 5-3 Sun Belt) are coming into the weekend with one of the SBC’s worst fielding percentages. Their .956 mark is more than 20 points worse than the mark put up by last year’s slick-fielding 58-10 club.
It should help to have a healthy third baseman back in the fold. Tyler Girouard tweaked his hamstring in a weight-lifting session Monday, and for the two midweek games, Robichaux limited Girouard to late-inning substitutions.
Without Girouard, the Cajuns played Brenn Conrad out of position at third base — where he had two errors against Nicholls. In Conrad’s spot was freshman Kennon Fontenot, who has struggled defensively when he’s been on the field.
While Robichaux isn’t happy with his team’s defensive struggles this season, he does see them as fixable mental problems.
The key is to get them fixed before they become too established.
“We want to work to get rid of the pink elephant in the room and get better defensively,” Robichaux said. “Not end up having something mushroom on them.”
Shoddy defense can be an equalizer between two teams — but on paper, the Cajuns should have the upper hand this weekend.
The Red Wolves (10-12, 2-6) have been in a bit of a tailspin lately, dropping eight of their last 10 games. Like the Cajuns, they’ve had to deal with messy weather; two of their games were canceled outright.
Robichaux isn’t buying Arkansas State’s record at face value.
“I don’t know if the weather got them off to a crazy start,” Robichaux said. “I do believe they’re better than their record.”
They’ve pitched well enough, compiling a 3.38 team ERA, but they’ve struggled at the plate, where their .252 team batting average ranks near the bottom of the league. Only one player, first baseman Zach George (.360), has a batting average over .300.
The Cajuns, meanwhile, lead the SBC in team batting average (.284) while posting the league’s third-best staff ERA (3.33).
The weekend rotation will look a little different than it previously has. A week after being bumped up to the Saturday spot in the rotation, freshman left-hander Gunner Leger will now start the series opener Friday night.
Leger (3-0, 3.12) has been the most consistent starter on the roster, giving up two or fewer earned runs in five of his six starts, and he’s coming off a strong performance against Georgia State that helped the Cajuns earn a series win.
He’s bumping fellow freshman Evan Guillory from the Friday night role. Guillory, who has served as the Friday night starter since the second weekend of the season, has given up 17 earned runs in his last four starts.
Guillory will occupy the Sunday spot in the rotation this weekend, with senior Greg Milhorn pitching Saturday.
Though his young team is coming off a frustrating loss, Robichaux said he’s liked how it has played coming off losses so far this season, and he thinks they’ll be ready to put it behind them Friday.
“A lot of people, no matter how they’re playing, they try to get ready for the weekend because that’s how you put a ring on your finger,” Robichaux said.