HOUSTON — The five seniors on Louisiana-Lafayette’s current baseball team were all part of last year’s special season — but that 58-10 campaign was many times a heavy weight around their necks.
On Monday, that weight was lifted. The Ragin’ Cajuns are back in the super regional round for the second straight season, and that senior group is the biggest reason.
In Monday’s regional-clinching 5-2 win over Rice, the grouping of Tyler Girouard, Greg Davis, Dylan Butler and tournament Most Outstanding Player Evan Powell had five of the team’s seven hits and drove in four of the five runs.
During a regional in which the Cajuns hit .184 despite winning all three of their games, that senior class hit .353 and had 12 of the team’s 16 hits.
“We said at the beginning of the year that our freshman pitchers were going to have to try to grow up,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said, “and for them to do that, we were going to need a lot from our five seniors. And we’ve gotten a lot from them ... not just athletically, batting average and that kind of stuff, but leadership.”
During the regional, the leadership got a backup from the numbers. Girouard went 1-for-2 with three walks and an RBI on Monday;Powell had a two-run single in the fifth inning that provided a 4-0 lead at the time; Davis was 1-for-3 and had a sacrifice to set up an eighth-inning insurance run; and Butler went 2-for-3 and plated that eighth-inning run with a sacrifice fly.
“Everything’s momentum,” said Butler, who drew a ninth-inning RBI walk in Friday’s pulsating 7-6 win over the Owls and scored the ninth-inning tying run on an infield ground ball in UL-Lafayette’s 2-1 Sunday win over Houston.
“We’re not surprised with everything that’s going on right now. That’s what we taught these freshmen, we let them know how it is. We got so far last year, we wanted to get back there and we knew what we needed to do to get there.”
For the tournament, that senior foursome went 12-for-34, with Powell collecting five hits.
“All along, we expected it,” Powell said of the Cajuns’ postseason winning streak, which now stands at eight games. “It’s hard for people not in our circle to see the vision we have. This has been the goal all along, and we’ve accomplished every goal we’ve set forth to do.”
In addition to the four senior contribution in the batting lineup, fifth senior Greg Milhorn was huge in getting UL-Lafayette to Monday’s game with his three relief innings of two-hit ball in what was a 1-0 Sunday game before the Cajuns scored the two ninth-inning runs. In all, Milhorn is 3-0 in the postseason after getting Sunday’s win.
“I went with Millie in a 1-0 game because I trusted him,” Robichaux . “You put people in the game that have destiny, and Milhorn has come through so many tough times. To come back and be where he’s at right now, he was destined.”
The four seniors in the batting order hit in the fifth (Girouard), sixth (Powell), seventh (Davis) and ninth (Butler) spots in the batting order, and Robichaux said the late-season performance of the bottom of the lineup was a huge key.
“They’re all on the same page and our lineup’s calmed down,” he said. “They know where they’re hitting against lefties, righties, they’re comfortable with it. That’s what we had last year.”
That 2014 team ranked atop the national polls late in the year and advanced to the super regional round for the first time since the 2000 College World Series run. This year’s team has now equaled that advancement.
“I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group,” Powell said. “Last year was so much fun, and we did it with older guys. To do it with the team we have this year has been special.”
Robichaux added: “Leadership and team chemistry can make a great team average or an average team great. With this leadership and chemistry, they made an average team great.”
UL-Lafayette will receive 600 tickets for the super regional round at Alex Box Stadium, and Ragin’ Cajun Athetic Fund donors will receive first priority to purchase tickets for the three-game series based on 2015 Annual Fund donation levels.
Vermilion and Louisiana Classics donors may buy four tickets per account, and donors at other levels may buy two tickets.
RCAF donors may print ticket forms at RaginCajuns.com or fill out that form at the Cajundome box office, and may return those forms to the box office by email at email@example.com or deliver in person by the noon Wednesday deadline. Tickets are $18 per game and RCAF donors will be notified by email by noon Thursday where to pick up tickets.