LAFAYETTE — The team certainly is happy with seven straight home wins to start the season, but Louisiana-Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux and his squad know finding success on the road is key to making a run at a third straight NCAA super regional.
And so far, road success has been fleeting.
That’s something the Ragin’ Cajuns (8-4) hope to turn around this week when they travel to face Tulane at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Turchin Stadium. UL-Lafayette also is on the road this weekend, opening Sun Belt Conference play against red-hot Troy.
The Cajuns are 1-4 away from M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field after losing to McNeese State in Lake Charles on Wednesday. UL-Lafayette also lost at Louisiana Tech in its road opener two weeks ago, and the squad’s only victory off its home turf was a 4-2 win over Rice in the final game of last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Classic at Houston’s Minute Maid Park — a neutral-site game.
“We have to get better on the road,” Robichaux said. “That’s a big key for us. The good thing is that we came back over the weekend and didn’t let one loss send us into too much of a tailspin, which can happen in this business. The road’s always tough but, to be a champion, you have to win on the road. I’m glad that it’s all on the road this week because that’s the part that we have to solve right now.”
In the first five road games, the Cajuns are hitting .226 and have scored only 12 runs. Robichaux’s team was 23-13 away from home last year and went 25-3 on the road in 2014, its two super regional seasons. The Cajuns went into last year’s super regional at LSU having won 11 of 12 on the road.
The Cajuns did rally from Wednesday’s 7-2 loss in Lake Charles with a three-game sweep of 2015 Northeast Conference champion and NCAA tournament representative Sacred Heart over the weekend. In those three wins, UL-Lafayette allowed only three runs and 15 hits, and starting pitchers Gunner Leger, Wyatt Marks and Nick Lee each worked six innings and combined to allow two runs while striking out 20.
The 4-1 week let the Cajuns retain their No. 16 ranking by Baseball America, their No. 17 ranking by the Collegiate Baseball Writers and their No. 24 ranking by D1Baseball.com. Tulane remained in a national poll Monday at No. 29 by Collegiate Baseball, which had the Cajuns sixth two weeks ago but dropped them completely out of the top 30 after they went 1-2 in the Houston tournament.
With their lofty early-season rankings, the Cajuns have faced a bevy of front-line pitching. Louisiana Tech’s Tyler Clancy is 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 18 innings, including wins over the Cajuns and nationally ranked Arkansas, and TCU’s Brian Howard is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 20 innings in wins over the Cajuns, Loyola Marymount and Gonzaga.
UL-Lafayette will face that again Tuesday with freshman lefthander Ross Massey, a product of Baton Rouge’s Catholic High, slated to get the start for Tulane. Massey (1-1) leads the Green Wave (7-4) with a 1.64 ERA, and opponents are hitting only .171 against him.
The Cajuns will counter with sophomore righthander Evan Guillory (0-2, 3.86), whom Robichaux said pitched better than his results in Wednesday’s loss at McNeese. Guillory, UL-Lafayette’s Friday starter much of last season, allowed only two hits and one earned run while fanning six in five innings.
“He had a better start,” Robichaux said, comparing Wednesday’s outing to his midweek opener in Ruston. “The key for him, like the rest of us, is to continue to grow and get comfortable at being uncomfortable on the road. We’ve got five out of our nine in the lineup at times that haven’t played Division I baseball, and two of them are freshmen.”
Guillory will be facing a red-hot Green Wave lineup, one that outscored Pepperdine 30-3 in a three-game home sweep over the weekend. Tulane is 6-1 at home in Turchin Stadium this year and holds a 587-221-2 record at home since the facility was opened in 1991.