SAN MARCOS, Texas — The dateline and some of the faces are different, but this is all feeling very familiar.
A team that many started having concerns about roughly midway through the season — myself included — has caught fire at the absolute perfect time. Does that ring a bell or two in your head like it does mine?
This is just about the same script the Cajuns played out at the end of last season, when they won five straight games to get out of the losers’ bracket and claim a Sun Belt Conference tournament title, then carried the momentum over to the Houston regional with three straight wins to claim a super regional berth.
This year’s team started that hot streak just a little bit earlier, and its has a little more decoration to go along with it. The co-conference championship and the unblemished run through the tournament must come with experience.
Let’s run through everything:
Six straight wins to close the regular season, enough to make up a four-game deficit in the final five games of the conference schedule to earn a shared championship with the team they caught.
Four straight wins in the conference tournament, three through the dominant pitching that has all of a sudden become this team’s calling card just two years after being known primarily because of its ridiculous home run numbers. The Cajuns struck out 48 guys in 36 innings. That’s insane.
“This is good right here,” coach Tony Robichaux said in a satisfied tone after winning the conference tournament. “But what I like is what’s fixin’ to happen.”
That is the mysterious part. The Cajuns’ hope is that recent history continues to repeat itself up to a point.
Like last year, they were playing very close to .500 baseball as they struggled to find an identity around the mid-way point of the season. The problems were different. Early last year, it was the youth of the pitching staff. This season, it was an offense that fell into several prolonged funks at the dish.
“Too many people panicked early in the season,” Robichaux said. “We didn’t let that define us.”
They found it when they needed it most.
In their 10-game win streak, the Cajuns slugged .470 as a team — almost 70 points better than they were doing before the streak started. They led all teams in the tournament in scoring and have averaged 8.1 runs per game in their winning streak.
They’re hitting .311 in their last 10 games after spending much of the season trying to climb up to the .270 mark.
All this isn’t even mentioning the dominant pitching staff that somehow got even better. The Cajuns struck out 48 batters in 36 innings this week.
“They played their best baseball late,” Robichaux said. “What you’ve got to hope for is you’ve got to keep it going, now. This is not it for us. This is pieces of the puzzle along the way.
“The field’s going to get salty now, so you’re going to have to now rise up and continue to play your best baseball and have people step up and play big like they did this week.”
This is where the comparisons to years past need to stop for the Cajuns.
The big tournament starts now. This is where the real teams separate themselves from the ones just happy to be there. The Cajuns, making their fourth consecutive regional appearance, are no longer happy just to be there.
Neither will they be happy just to turn a solid stretch of ball into a regional championship and a super regional appearance. After two straight seasons that ended in the super regional round?
That’s so last year.