LAFAYETTE — The good news is that the streaky Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team is entering the Sun Belt Conference tournament on a three-game winning streak.
“It was good to get rolling,” senior third baseman Tyler Girouard said of the Cajuns’ three-game sweep over the weekend at Louisiana-Monroe. “That’s what we need going into a tournament like this.”
The bad news is that this same Cajuns team has shown a proclivity to drop games in succession, which can’t happen if they want to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive this week in Troy, Alabama.
The players know they have to keep their forward momentum going if they want to keep their season going.
“Our backs are going to be against the wall, and we’ve got to win,” junior shortstop Blake Trahan said.
The Cajuns’ 2015 season has played out like a blueprint for roller-coaster design.
After a 4-5 start, the season played out like this: six-game winning streak, three-game losing streak, three-game winning streak, a 2-5 stretch, six-game winning streak, a 1-2 stretch featuring both a blowout win and a blowout loss, a seven-game winning streak, a 2-5 stretch and a three-game sweep.
It was a season of extremes, and they never really found the Goldilocks zone: They were either scalding hot or ice cold.
Trahan thinks of it all as a giant learning experience, with one key takeaway.
“That’s the thing with a young team: You’re going to have some ups and downs,” he said. “But I feel like every time we really needed to win a game, we were able to go compete and, if we didn’t win it, we almost won it.”
There’s some truth to that. The Cajuns were a walk-off home run away from entering the tournament on a five-game winning streak; Nicholls State’s Seth Stevens handed the Cajuns a 5-4 loss by drilling a ninth-inning solo shot against Cajuns closer Dylan Moore last Tuesday.
Both the team and Moore — who recorded his ninth save in the middle game of the ULM series — took that blow and kept on chugging right through Monroe and into the conference tournament.
“It is good to be feeling better about yourselves (instead of) going in there after the Nicholls game,” coach Tony Robichaux said. “We got walked off on, but yet the closer came right back and had a great weekend in Monroe. That’s a good sign.”
When the Cajuns have struggled, it hasn’t usually been because of their pitching. More often than not, the Cajuns went as their lineup went. During their most recent 2-5 stretch, they struggled at the plate, particularly with men on base.
They turned that around in Monroe, scoring 21 runs in the series and rallying back from a deficit in the final two games.
Perhaps they’ve found something that can click in the tournament, because they’ve already adapted the win-or-go-home mentality. Girouard said hitting coach Jeremy Talbot had a message for the team before its doubleheader against Monroe last Saturday.
“Coach Talbot came and talked to us and said, ‘Let’s act like we’re in the tournament right now. Let’s act like we’re on that Saturday game where, if we lose, we go home,’ ” Girouard said. “I think that put us in the right mindset.”
As they’ve done all year, the Cajuns responded to a losing skid with a winning streak. The question now becomes how long that streak can continue, and whether the down side will follow the up side.
“It’s not about losing as much as, ‘How do you respond when things go bad?’ ” Robichaux said. “That’s one thing this team’s done all year: They’ve responded. They haven’t got into long, dreaded tailspins. They’ve been able to pull themselves back out and try to respond, and we’re going to need that all weekend.
“Whoever responds the best in this tournament is going to win this tournament.”