LAFAYETTE — University of Louisiana at Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux has seen LSU turn a crack into a cascade enough times to know his team can’t expect to win if it makes mistakes Tuesday.
“If you watch so many teams go in there … they’re right there, but then they kick a ball, they throw a ball away, momentum gets started, adrenaline gets going, and LSU hangs a seven spot on them.
“If they just wouldn’t have thrown the ball away, I don’t know if they’d have won, but at least they’d have stayed in the ballgame.”
Last year, Robichaux said his 58-10 team was able to mute that momentum by playing fundamentally sound baseball.
He specifically remembered a play when shortstop Blake Trahan calmly threw a runner out at the plate, rather than getting caught up in the momentum and throwing the ball in the dirt.
With an inexperienced team, Robichaux will be watching closely to make sure the momentum and adrenaline doesn’t get to them.
But sometimes, it’s less about getting caught up in the momentum than it is suppressing the other team’s.
“You’ve got nine innings to try to keep that adrenaline asleep,” Robichaux said. “There’s only one way to do it, you’ve got to throw strikes, you’ve got to get off the field when you’re supposed to get off the field.”
Left-hander Connor Toups (1-1, 1.00) will get the first crack at keeping the LSU bats silent. Oddly enough, it was Toups who fell victim to just the type of momentum-shifting plays that Robichaux is trying to avoid against LSU.
Toups was the tough-luck loser in the Cajuns’ 3-1 loss to Nicholls State last week. He was responsible for all three runs that came across the board, but all were unearned.
That can’t happen for the Cajuns against LSU on Tuesday.
“They’re a big momentum team — always have been,” Robichaux said. “They get their crowd in it, and all of a sudden, you’re pitching against adrenaline. That’s the biggest thing that you want to try to stay away from.
“We’ve got to play good defense. You can’t let that adrenaline, that momentum, get going. As pitchers, we’ve got to stay away from walks. We don’t know if we’re old enough yet to just send a guy in there and, ‘Hey, go get the third best team in the country on the road.’”
With that considered, Robichaux said he’s likely going to rely heavily on the bullpen to get him through the game.
But the momentum isn’t something Robichaux and the Cajuns are trying to run from. He wants his team to experience the closest approximation to a regional atmosphere.
The Cajuns won’t necessarily get the full effect, because they’re playing LSU at Zephyr Field in Metairie, but Robichaux is still expecting a large contingent of LSU fans to show up and replicate some of the high-pressure situations he’s trying to immerse his team in.
Robichaux remembers the feeling of coaching games at LSU’s old Alex Box Stadium, when a vocal and close crowd was on his players.
“There were some nights I didn’t know if we were going to go through 10 arms in one inning when they got adrenalized and (former LSU infielder Brad) Cresse started hitting balls back to the interstate,” Robichaux said. “You talk about looking around at your lineup card and trying to figure out how we’re going to get out of this, and it’s only the third inning.
“I find the bigger stadium is a little bit easier to play in. … Will it be easy? No way, no way at all. They’ll bring a good fan base.”
The hope for Robichaux is that his team can use a game against a highly ranked opponent (LSU is ranked No. 3 by Baseball American and No. 5 by Collegiate Baseball) in a potentially hostile environment to make the Cajuns better late in the season. The difficulty those games present, Robichaux said, is that they force a team to play as close to perfect as possible.
“When you’re playing an imperfect game and you’re trying to play it perfect, that’s pressure,” Robichaux said. “But when you go in there and you can handle it? That’s a good feeling. And if you don’t? You learn from it.”