There will be a lot on the line for both teams Thursday through Saturday when UL-Lafayette’s baseball team wraps up its regular season and welcomes UL-Monroe for a three-game series.
Not that any added impetus is needed when the Ragin’ Cajuns and the Warhawks meet, mind you.
“Any time you play state schools, guys know each other,” said Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux, whose squad can clinch the Sun Belt Conference West Division in the series that begins at 6 p.m. Thursday at Russo Park. “There’s a pride factor there. Guys don’t want to lose to guys that they know and they’ve played against in high school.”
The pride factor may be important, but there are tangible benefits for both teams to come away with wins in a series that moves up one day from the regular Friday-Sunday schedule. The Sun Belt tournament begins Tuesday, also hosted by the Cajuns, and all league teams are playing Thursday-Saturday this week in preparation.
The Cajuns (30-23, 15-12) enter the series leading the West by one-half game over Little Rock (14-12), which hosts Arkansas State in its final series. If UL-Lafayette equals or surpasses the Trojans’ win total for the weekend, and Texas State (13-14) does not sweep three games at Texas-Arlington, the Cajuns claim the West title and the No. 2 seed for next week’s league tournament.
That’s important, because the two top seeds in the tournament will play a survivor of the No. 7-10 and 8-9 Tuesday play-in games in their first tournament outing, and will likely not face the top pitcher from one of those surviving teams.
“We wanted to put something in that gave the highest seeds a reward,” Robichaux said. “One’s still playing 10 and two’s playing nine or whoever, but those teams still have a number one (pitcher). So what advantage are you getting. Here, you have a huge advantage because they have to throw their number one.
“Even though they won that first game, they’re still expending some energy and playing a game in 95 degrees on that turf. You’re making them do something to get to you, and I think that’s an advantage for being one or two all year in a good league.”
The Warhawks will also be doing some scoreboard-watching during the series, but it’ll be at the other end of the standings. ULM (23-28, 10-17) put itself in a precarious position when Troy came to Monroe and swept the Warhawks last weekend, and now ULM may have to win at least one game to insure a slot in the 10-team tournament field depending on other league results.
“I like at the end to finish with somebody that’s playing for something,” Robichaux said, “and not somebody who’s playing free and doesn’t care. I think they’ll be playing for something and they’ll come in here wanting to win. Coach (Michael) Federico is trying to get rid of a culture there, and I like and respect him and he’s going to change the culture there.”
Federico was hired in late June after nine years as pitching coach at Southern Mississippi, replacing the fired Bruce Peddie after a disastrous 12-42 2017 season. The Warhawks have nearly doubled their win total of last season and are coming off a 10-7 win at McNeese in their last mid-week outing Tuesday.
Prior to the Troy series, ULM had kept itself in the Sun Belt tournament hunt with a three-game home sweep of Georgia State, during which the Warhawks scored 29 runs. ULM, though, had gone 1-8 in its previous three league series and put itself in danger by going 4-11 in its last five series.
The Cajun squad didn’t do much better over the past weekend, taking one of three games at Texas State when two wins could have put them in a controlling position in the Sun Belt West. UL-Lafayette gave up leads in both the Saturday (6-5) and Sunday (8-6) losses and nearly did the same in its own midweek finale before hanging on for a 7-6 home win over Tulane Tuesday.
“We have to get back to making sure we pitch and play defense,” Robichaux said. “Our hitters have done a good job in the second half, they swung it good enough to win this weekend if we turn a couple of double plays we had and don’t leave runs out there. Our pitchers have one less day of rest this week, so we have to take advantage at the plate when we can and not put them in tough positions.”