LAFAYETTE — The challenge facing the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team as it prepares for the final series of the regular season is to ride the wave forward instead of getting pulled under by it.
The Cajuns (31-20, 15-11 Sun Belt) are staggering into their series against UL-Monroe (25-26, 12-15) as losers of five of their past seven games. They can still see opportunity in front of them, but they understand the desperate need to right the ship.
“We’re a little disappointed now, but we’ve got to let it go,” junior shortstop Blake Trahan said. “There’s been a lot of talk about letting it go and moving on. We’ve been saying a little saying and it’s called, ‘We’ve got to catch a new wave.’ So we’re going to try to go out to ULM and win these three games and then make a run in the tournament.”
Lately, Trahan said the Cajuns’ problems have been compounded by not playing complete games.
“We’ve got to continue to grow as a team and be able to play team ball better,” Trahan said. “There’s been games where the pitchers have pitched well and the hitters didn’t hit. There’s been games where we’ve done good offensively and the pitchers didn’t pitch, or we didn’t play defense.”
But the stats will argue that the offense has been largely responsible for the late-season swoon. Outside of a 19-hit, 20-run stampede in the second game of the Appalachian State series, the Cajuns bats have been cold.
Throw that 20-run outlier out of the window, and the Cajuns offense has averaged 6.3 hits and 2.5 runs during the past two-plus weeks.
But the hitters aren’t the only ones who’ve struggled. The Cajuns bullpen, a point of strength all season, has a 4.98 ERA in the last seven games compared to a 3.49 ERA for the starters.
“What we’ve got to do is try not to focus too much on the hitting and just make sure we keep pitching and playing defense, because I really believe those older guys will give us something before its over,” coach Tony Robichaux said. “But if we stop pitching and we stop playing defense, we won’t have a chance.”
Their late-season struggles have sent the Cajuns tumbling down the conference standings. On Friday, they were in position to possibly jump into first place in the Sun Belt race. Heading into this series, they’re in fourth place and could fall as low as sixth.
But they choose, instead, to look at how far they can rise. A Cajuns sweep combined with a South Alabama series win and one Georgia State win over Georgia Southern would pave the way for a second-place finish.
“If we win these three games at ULM, we’ll be right there to get second in the conference if everything falls into place,” Trahan said. “So going into the tournament as the second seed wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
Of course, to do that the Cajuns would need to sweep a team that’s still got plenty to play for itself.
The Warhawks enter the series tied with Texas State for seventh place in the conference standings.
A Cajuns sweep could potentially knock ULM out of the conference tournament, depending on the outcome of the series between Arkansas State and Arkansas-Little Rock.
Plus, there is that other little motivating factor.
The series has been a one-sided one lately. The Cajuns have won 13 consecutive games against the Warhawks, all of which came in the past two seasons.
Largely, those games have been beat downs. Two of them were decided by the seventh inning via run rule, and ULM was held to two or fewer runs eight times. The Cajuns have outscored the Warhawks 120-37 over the past two years.
Not only are the Cajuns wounded when entering hostile territory, they’re expecting an opponent eager to pour salt in that wound.
“We beat them pretty bad in the past, so they’re going to be ready for us this year,” Trahan said. “It’s definitely a good rivalry and it’s going to be a fun weekend.”