Could more stars possibly align over the “Tigue” on Tuesday night?
University of Louisiana at Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux will have his first crack at 1,000 career victories when the Cajuns take on nearby rival McNeese State at M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field.
He just happens to be the winningest baseball coach at each school, with 736 wins with the Cajuns and 263 with the Cowboys, and that alone is enough to make Tuesday’s 6 p.m. contest special.
Factor in that Robichaux played at both schools during his collegiate career, his first two years at McNeese in 1981-82 and his final year at UL-Lafayette in 1984, after growing up nearly halfway between the two schools in Crowley. He was set to finish his degree work in Lafayette when he got a call to come and take over the Cowboys program, and ended up with a degree from McNeese State.
Add in that Robichaux has tabbed freshman and Lake Charles product Gunner Leger to start on the mound against his hometown university. Leger’s father Tim, a native of Lafayette and a 1992 graduate of Acadiana High, is in his eighth year on the football staff at McNeese.
The younger Leger played for the national-power Barbe High program in Lake Charles, one coached by Robichaux’s former Cajuns teammate Glenn Cecchini.
If Robichaux does become the 17th active coach in Division I baseball to get to four-digit wins Tuesday night, it won’t be hard to find a story line.
“It’s just the way the calendar fell,” Robichaux said. “It’s a funny thing. I started at the school that’s coming in here and that’s a unique thing. But to me, it’s not that big a deal. My only hope is that we can knock it out on Tuesday, because that means we’ve got a winning streak going.”
Robichaux may be the only member of the Cajuns nation that is downplaying his chance at a thousand career wins.
“That would be awesome to do it at home for him,” said Cajuns senior infielder Tyler Girouard, who has been under Robichaux for five seasons. “He deserves all the credit he gets. He’s really a good coach, and we all appreciate him.”
“Just to be a part of that would really be special,” said returning All-American shortstop Blake Trahan, who also grew up between the two schools, in Kinder. “It would be something to remember.”
Robichaux coached at McNeese from 1987-94, taking over a struggling program at age 25 and going 263-177 in eight years, including two NCAA regionals and a school-record 41 wins in his final season. He went to UL-Lafayette to take over a program hit hard by NCAA penalties. But by the third season, in 1997, his team went 43-18, won the Sun Belt Conference and made its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1992.
Eight more NCAA outings have followed, including the memorable 2000 College World Series season and last year’s No. 1-ranked squad that finished 58-10 and hosted NCAA regional and super regional rounds. During that time, Robichaux became one of eight coaches in Division I history to win 500 games before the age of 40.
The Cajuns (4-3) got the 53-year-old Robichaux to the edge of 1,000 by taking two of three from Stony Brook in a weekend series.
“The only thing 1,000 would mean, really, is that we got another win, and that means we’re pitching good and playing good,” Robichaux said. “Not many guys get to that mark, but obviously the credit goes to the former players, to the coaches. ... You can’t get there without good players and good coaches.”
Robichaux and Leger were both more excited about the freshman getting the chance to pitch against the Cowboys, after the left-hander picked up a win in his first collegiate start Wednesday at Northwestern State. Leger went five innings and scattered three hits while fanning four, giving up two earned runs in a 7-3 win that UL-Lafayette led from the start.
“It was definitely good to go out after the first inning and have a four-run lead,” Leger said. “It was good just to get out there, and now to know what to expect, get the first one under my belt.”
“I’m glad for him,” Robichaux said. “We thought down the road he could be a weekend starter, but we needed to see the three guys that we went out with, and we put him on the midweek game because we thought he could be a great midweek starter. It just falls that he gets to pitch against his hometown team, and that’s great for him.”
Leger’s father played professional in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization before becoming a standout collegiate quarterback at McNeese State. He still has a large number of friends and fans from his prep days at Acadiana and his hugely successful coaching stint at St. Thomas More.
“My dad being a coach, I grew up around the game,” the younger Leger said. “He always told me to be bigger than the moment. He was lucky enough to get drafted out of high school, and just his experiences, he taught me so much through what he’s done. To have a dad that loves you and is there for you, but knows when you need to be coached up.”
“That’s a huge advantage for him,” Robichaux said of Leger growing up in that coaching and baseball environment. “It’s about the mental part of the game more than the physical. Gunner’s probably had so many speeches about the importance of how to handle failure because that’s what baseball is. That’s part of coaching, that’s what we do for a living.”
The elder Leger and prep coach Cecchini were both at the Northwestern State win, and the younger Leger hopes he’ll have a tough time picking out his dad in what figures to be a packed house at Moore Field.
“I hope he’s in the stands with a red shirt on and not a blue and yellow one,” he said.