THIBODAUX –The past two times Louisiana-Lafayette’s baseball team faced a five-game week, the Ragin’ Cajuns emerged with a sweep.
The Cajuns will look to continue that streak Tuesday when they put a six-game win streak on the line and go for a bit of revenge against Nicholls State, which took a 3-1 win one month ago in Lafayette.
UL-Lafayette (28-15) beat Southeastern Louisiana and Southern in single games and swept a Sun Belt Conference series from Texas-Arlington in last week’s busy stretch. The Cajuns, who have won 13 of 15 since the midpoint of the season, including those two five-game-week sweeps, have outscored opponents 37-12 in the current win streak.
“It’s a good routine for us,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said of a third five-game week in the past four weeks. “It’s good for our bullpen to be able to throw some people. We thought as a staff that it might take us the first half of the season, but we thought we could play ourselves into a good team.
“We don’t mind it. ... To me, it gives us a chance to continue to play and do the things we need to get better.”
There’s no secret to the second-half success. In its 13-2 run, UL-Lafayette is hitting better (.298 compared to .274), pitching better (2.80 ERA compared to 3.76) and fielding better (15 errors in 15 games after 43 in the first 28) than in the season’s first 28 games.
Cajun pitchers allowed three runs all weekend in the UTA sweep, and UL-Lafayette didn’t have an error.
“We’re playing very good defense, and that allows us to keep pitch counts down,” Robichaux said after his three true-freshman starters each went seven innings over the weekend and none eclipsed the 100-pitch mark. “We’re turning double plays and not having errors that don’t let us get out of innings. That also takes pressure off the hitters, since they’re not always trying to come back after we give up a three-run inning.”
Gunner Leger (2-0), Evan Guillory (1-0) and Wyatt Marks (4-0) give the Cajuns one of three all-freshman weekend rotations nationally (along with Cincinnati and San Jose State), and all three have ERAs of 2.86 of better since the season’s midpoint.
Robichaux gives credit to defense, especially in the infield, for much of that success, calling the return of second baseman Stefan Trosclair after extended shoulder problems the catalyst.
“We lost over 500 innings on the mound from last year, so we knew we were going to have to play good defense to get those freshmen off the field,” Robichaux said. “We didn’t have the guy at second base that we wanted early, but everybody’s errors have gone down since (Trosclair) got on the field. Trosclair plays the game with arrogance, and when you can trust the guy to the left and right of you, it allows you to relax as an infielder, and you can cover extra territory on your own instead of having to do it.”
The earlier game with Nicholls State came during UL-Lafayette’s early defensive struggles. The Colonels (24-16-1) didn’t score an earned run but took advantage of four Cajuns errors.
The Colonels are 14-7 at home and begin an eight-game homestand Tuesday. Nichools State won four straight before losing two of three at McNeese State over the weekend, including a 5-4 11-inning loss Sunday.
“If we go to Nicholls and don’t do what we’ve been doing, we can lose,” Robichaux said. “It’s a tough place to play. That field holds the scoring down, and it puts more onus on your pitching and defense, and if you go in there with a lack of focus you wind up with a lot of fly ball outs.”
Robichaux said he wouldn’t announce a starter until Tuesday morning to oppose likely Nicholls State starter and junior right-hander Marc Frazier (1-5, 4.11).
After Tuesday, the Cajuns play two struggling teams. UNO (13-29) brings a 1-17 road record to Moore Field at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Then, UL-Lafayette travels to face new Sun Belt member Appalachian State (13-31, 5-18) in a three-game weekend series in Boone, North Carolina.