LAFAYETTE — After dropping the first two games of the Georgia Southern series two weeks ago, giving the Cajuns a 15-13 record at the halfway point of the season, UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux issued a challenge.
Be a different team in the second half than you were in the first. Not just different, but more careful, more aware not only of its shortcomings, but of its strengths.
So far, the Cajuns have responded, ripping off six straight wins before dropping a close one earlier this week against Southeastern.
“What I like is that this team took a hard look at the first half and came out and out of seven games, they’ve won six,” said coach Tony Robichaux. “What I like is that they beat some teams they were supposed to beat. They beat a team that maybe on paper, who knows, maybe we shouldn’t have beat in Houston with a comeback. You look for a spark in the second half.”
This weekend begins an entirely new challenge for the Cajuns (21-14, 8-6), as a three-game series with Texas State (17-18-1, 9-6) represents the beginning of the home stretch in Sun Belt Conference play.
The hope, for Robichaux and his team, is to continue to distance themselves from an inconsistent first half of the season by playing solid, fundamental baseball.
“The pitching is growing up faster than I thought it would,” Robichaux said. “That was my worry, because we’re not a team that’s going to pull away from a lot of people.
“We have to get good down the stretch of playing a complete ball game.”
If anyone can understand that situation, it might be Texas State.
In the conference’s preseason poll, the Cajuns and Bobcats were forecasted to finish first and second, respectively, in the SBC this season, but neither have met those preseason expectations in the first half of the season.
The Cajuns have too often been done in by their own mistakes, whether it’s in the field, on the basepaths or in the batter’s box.
In a season where nearly half the Cajuns games have been decided by one or two runs, in which they have a 7-9 record, eliminating mental mistakes could be the difference-maker.
“There’s absolutely nothing you can do about (the first half) except learn from it and make adjustments,” said senior Tyler Girouard, whose hot bat has played a large part in the Cajuns’ second-half surge. “That’s what we have to do, and I think we’ve done a good job of that to this point.”
The Bobcats simply haven’t produced, coming into the series with the league’s worst team batting average (.235) while giving up more runs (222) than any team in the league not named Appalachian State (also 222) and UALR (231).
Yet both are still within striking distance in a bunched-together SBC, and can make a run at the league’s regular-season title with a strong showing in the final 15 games of league play.
Of course, part of getting through a season is to learn how to overcome adversity in the form of injury, and the Cajuns will get their first chance to prove themselves on that front this weekend.
Usual Saturday starter Greg Milhorn will travel with the team this weekend, but will not pitch after he suffered an apparent injury to his groin in last week’s Jackson State series.
Robichaux will throw freshmen Gunner Leger and Evan Guillory on Friday and Saturday, respectively, and will assess the Sunday starter after the completion of Saturday’s game.
He doesn’t want to commit to holding anybody for Sunday if they are needed in the first two games of the series.
“We want to try to win Game 1 and win Game 2,” Robichaux said. “I wouldn’t want to hold a guy out to win a game, because if you can win the first two, well now you’re playing with house money.”