LAFAYETTE — When he was looking at his roster before the season started, Louisiana-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux figured he knew what he was going to get out of his returning players.
It was the four junior college transfers — Steven Sensley, Ishmael “Izzy” Edwards, Alex Pinero and Brad Antchak — that he thought would be key to his team’s success so far this season.
Perhaps then it shouldn’t come as a surprise that as those four are starting to find their stride, the Cajuns have won six of their last eight games heading into this weekend’s Sun Belt Conference series against Little Rock.
“Those four guys have to play at a higher level for us to play at a higher level,” Robichaux said. “I’m not saying the whole season is on those four guys, but especially with (senior outfielder Kyle Clement) gone now, we need those four guys to help us.”
It took a little bit of an adjustment period for those four to start producing, though.
Before the Cajuns series against Sacred Heart, that group was hitting a collective .194 (14-for-72), and the Cajuns offense was struggling with them. As a team, the Cajuns were hitting .267 and were scoring just 4.4 runs per game as they stumbled out of the gate to a 5-4 record.
Sensley and Pinero had the hardest time of the four out of the gate.
Sensley, lauded for his power coming out of LSU-Eunice, had just four hits in his first 25 at bats and had struck out six times.
Pinero had it even worse. He struck out eight times in his first 13 at bats, collecting just one hit before the Sacred Heart series started.
For Sensley, it was a matter of confidence.
“I think the main thing with me is my confidence; knowing I belong here, knowing I can play at this level and be the person I was last year at LSU-E to this team,” Sensley said. “Play with supreme confidence and provide for my team.”
Sensley missed the last two games of the Sacred Heart series with a sore hamstring, but has been a factor in the lineup since his return.
“There came a point in time where I said, ‘Enough is enough, I’m going to get it done,’ ” Sensley said.
Including the series opener against Sacred Heart, Sensley is on a five-game hitting streak, during which he’s hit .421 (8-for-19) and has forced other teams to adjust when he comes to the plate.
“He’s a guy that can take over a game,” Robichaux said. “He’s a guy that the coach can look at the lineup and go, ‘Man, this guy’s coming back up to the plate again.’ But he has to learn how to be that player. He’s got to learn how to be a threat.
“This weekend (against Troy), he was a threat. They started playing shifts with their second baseman all the way in right field. They started to move people around for him.”
Pinero entered the season figuring to be a fixture at either corner infield spot, but a stomach virus hit him right before the season started, causing him to lose 12 pounds in about two weeks.
The weight loss sapped some of his strength and his confidence early in the year, but like Sensley, he’s come on strong as of late thanks to the confidence that comes with results.
He finally started to feel like himself for the Sacred Heart series, and it started to show. He drove in three runs in the Sacred Heart opener and punctuated a five-game hitting streak with a 4-for-5 day at the plate in the series finale against Troy.
“Confidence is the main thing in baseball,” Pinero said. “If you’re feeling confident, you can go up there and hit anything that’s thrown at you. It’s hard to get your confidence up when you start off the year not doing that well.
“But once I got my confidence up, I felt great, started seeing the ball better and the game started going my way.”
Those same four hitters that had a combined .194 average going into the Sacred Heart series have posted a .353 average (30-for-85) and have driven in almost a quarter of the Cajuns runs.
As the junior college transfers have picked up their game, so have the Cajuns, whose batting average has spiked 18 points as they have scored nearly six runs per game in their last eight games.