LAFAYETTE — Tuesday’s game isn’t your typical midweek outing for the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team.
After facing six straight Louisiana squads in midweek games so far this season, the Ragin’ Cajuns welcome Houston at 6 p.m. Tuesday in what UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux calls a good challenge for his team.
“Playing people like this helps us a lot,” he said Monday as his team prepared to start a five-game week. “It keeps putting pressure on us, and we need to continue to learn how to handle pressure. You play teams like this to get better.”
The Cajuns (16-13) have split their six midweek games this year but, with the exception of facing LSU in last Tuesday’s Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic in Metairie, the Cougars will be the toughest midweek test for the Cajuns this year.
Houston (21-11) was in the nation’s top 20 in four polls last week before losing two of three at Memphis for its second straight American Athletic Conference series loss. The Cougars opened the year on a six-game winning streak and had a 10-game streak before losing four of their past seven, all but one of those in conference play.
Both the Cajuns and Cougars took two of three from Alabama in February weekend series, UL-Lafayette doing that in Hoover and Houston winning a home series. Both lost to LSU as the only other common opponent.
“I’d rather play good people to see where we’re at,” Robichaux said, “and to let (the players) see where they’re at and where we need to continue to grow. That’s our ultimate goal, to continue to grow.”
The Cajuns lost their first Sun Belt Conference home series in two seasons over the weekend after last Tuesday’s 8-6 defeat to LSU, losing two of three to Georgia Southern but winning a 5-1 finale. Sunday’s win, behind a solid start from freshman righthander Evan Guillory and a pair of home runs, started what Robichaux called the second half of the 56-game regular season.
“It was a tough week for us, but the one thing I do like about this young team is they won’t go away,” he said. “We had a lot of guys go cold in a tough stretch. But now we have to take what we’ve learned in the first half and use it in the second half and we’ll have a good Tuesday test with Houston.”
Sunday’s win marked the first time this season that the Cajuns had both second baseman Stefan Trosclair and third baseman Evan Powell in the lineup. Trosclair, who hit .538 with three home runs last week, has been recovering from a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder that he suffered in Alaska summer ball.
Powell also has been on the mend from a broken hand — a big blow since he can play infield and outfield and is also the only catcher other than starter Nick Thurman on the roster. He missed nearly five weeks before returning to part-time action against Arkansas State one week ago.
“We got to the point that we needed both of them to come in,” Robichaux said. “We wanted them earlier, but we felt since we were at the halfway point that they needed to be in the lineup. Neither one is 100 percent, but we need their leadership, their age, their experience. And we needed the double plays to be turned.”
Houston has not announced its starter, but junior righty Will Bacon is slated to be on the mound to open Tuesday’s game for the Cajuns, his first start of the season. Robichaux said Tuesday’s would be a bullpen game, with several pitchers seeing action, and that he would have a planned longer outing for the starter in Wednesday’s game at Southern; that one was rescheduled from a rainout March 11.
The Cajuns also will be in nonconference action this weekend, hosting Jackson State in a Friday-Sunday series in UL-Lafayette’s turn for the “open” weekend in the 11-team Sun Belt. It’ll be the first five-game week for the Cajuns this season.
“I’m OK with it,” Robichaux said. “We’re not coming off a long road trip. We really got caught in a tailspin heading into Little Rock (a Sunday twinbill loss in league play) when we weren’t able to play and then we had a week without any games.”