Look who’s back: ex-Cajuns assistant Matt Deggs brings Sam Houston State to Lafayette _lowres

Advocate file photo by BUDDY DELAHOUSSAYE -- Former UL-Lafayette hitting coach Matt Deggs led Sam Houston State to a 41-20 record this season. His team faces Arizona at 1 p.m. Friday in the Lafayette regional.

The numbers don’t lie.

Louisiana-Lafayette’s baseball team had its two most potent back-to-back offensive seasons in school history in 2013 and 2014, even in an era when bat regulations made it more difficult for power hitters.

That happens to be the two years that Matt Deggs served full seasons as the Ragin’ Cajuns hitting coach.

Make that hitting guru.

“He’s a damn good coach,” Cajuns catcher Nick Thurman said. “Playing for him, playing against him, I love doing both.”

Thurman and the Cajuns could get the latter opportunity this week during the Lafayette regional, when the Deggs-coached Sam Houston State team joins the field at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.

Deggs led the Bearkats to the Southland Conference regular-season and tournament titles, a feat the school had never achieved, and his team went 35-8 over its past 43 games on the way to a 41-20 record.

But UL-Lafayette fans know him more as the leader of “Pack Mentality,” an aggressive hitting approach that helped boost the Cajuns to the first two seasons in what is now a four-year run of success. They’ll open play in a fourth straight regional, something that’s happened only once before in school history, when they face Princeton at 7 p.m. Friday.

Sam Houston opens the regional against second-seeded Arizona at 1 p.m.

Deggs joined the Cajuns staff at midseason in 2012, and after that season, Deggs and head coach Tony Robichaux began to implement facets of the offensive system that Deggs had preached in his previous post as assistant head coach at Texas A&M.

The approach had an immediate impact. The Cajuns went from a .263 team batting average in 2012 to .317 the following year, increased their run production from 4.7 to 7.6 per game, upped their slugging mark from .362 to .503 and went from 18 team home runs in 2012 to a nation-leading 74.

Not surprisingly, UL-Lafayette went from 23 wins to 43 and wound up as the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Baton Rouge regional, their first in three years. Ironically, the Cajuns played Sam Houston State twice during that regional at Alex Box Stadium.

The numbers were even more impressive in 2014 when the Cajuns were ranked No. 1 nationally for the final quarter of the season. UL-Lafayette led the country in runs scored, hits and triples while ranking second in batting average (.317), home runs (68) and slugging percentage (.493), not to mention compiling the country’s best record (58-10).

“He’s a really good coach,” said Cajuns outfielder Kyle Clement, who hit .333 as a key reserve during his 2014 sophomore season. “He taught his guys how to compete and compete hard. That’s what I’m expecting from them this weekend.”

Added Thurman, a backup catcher in his two seasons with Deggs: “He’s such a great guy, and his guys are going to come in here and compete. We know his team’s going to be solid ... he didn’t make the regional for no reason.”

Offensive numbers have followed Deggs to SHSU, where he was the Southland’s Coach of the Year this season. The Bearkats were second in the SLC in hitting (.306) despite playing a schedule that included 15 games against preseason top 25 clubs, with the “Pack Mentality” at the plate helping to spur that success.

“Every hitter inside the ‘pack’ has a job, duty or function,” Deggs said. “Some of them run, some produce runs, some hit for power and some do all three. But they all know their role, they function together as a pack and they all play with the four pillars of the pack — attitude, approach, intensity and toughness.”

The Cajuns sported shirts and warmups with “AAIT” written in those two seasons, and fans reveled in the team’s exploits during the two years that Deggs occupied the third-base coaching box.

“I feel very blessed to have had those experiences we had at UL,” he said. “It’s my second home. Cajuns are the type of people that would give you their shirt off their back. They’ve always been super-good to coach (Lance) Harvell, myself and our families.

“We’re proud to be in a regional, but right now you have to put the relationships aside. It’s a business trip for us.”

Robichaux keeps in contact with Deggs and Harvell, who was also a part of the UL-Lafayette coaching staff in 2013-14 and now serves as Deggs’ top aide. Their teams played a season-opening series back in mid-February, where the Cajuns won three games — two of them decided in the late innings.

“We talked on the way back,” Robichaux said of the bus trips both of them made home Sunday after winning their conference tournament championship games. “I congratulated him on their success. They’re a lot better team than we saw in February and we’ll have to be prepared if we cross their path.”