LAFAYETTE — University of Louisiana at Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux knows a little about what Wally Sr., and Terry Pontiff went through in 2002.
When the LSU standout and Tigers team captain died in his sleep that June from sudden cardiac arrest brought on by a heart abnormality, Robichaux could relate. He watched how his own parents reacted to the death of Robichaux’s own brother many years ago.
“I saw pain you never want to see on your parents’ faces,” Robichaux said Monday. “I watched them go through that. I can imagine how much pain Wally’s parents went through.”
That’s why Robichaux considers it an honor for the Ragin’ Cajuns to take part once again in the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Zephyr Field in Metairie. The Cajuns (12-8) will take on the Tigers (14-5) for the second straight year in the game that LSU plays annually in Pontiff’s hometown.
All proceeds from the game go to the Wally Pontiff Jr. Foundation, which benefits various charities and scholarships across south Louisiana. The game airs on COX Sports.
“I’m very glad Mr. Pontiff continues to call us to play in it,” Robichaux said. “I know we’ve been one of their biggest money-makers when we’ve played there, so I’m very proud of that. I know it’s emotional for them, so for us to go there and maybe take some of that pain off their faces ... it’s an honor and a privilege for us to go there and play.”
LSU took an 8-6 win over UL-Lafayette last March 31 in the Pontiff Classic. Robichaux wasn’t glad about that loss, but he is glad his team did and will again get the experience of playing in the type of hostile atmosphere that postseason play could bring in just over two months.
“We use the venue and the setup to teach them the feel of what a regional’s going to feel like,” Robichaux said. “They’re going to be a regional team, and you get a chance to go into a tough venue to play a good team. That’s the only way you get better in this business. It’s hard to invite 10,000 fans to practice for Evan Guillory to pitch in front of.”
Guillory (1-2, 2.95), a sophomore right-hander who scattered five hits and gave up one earned run in six innings in Wednesday’s 10-1 win at Northwestern State, will get the start for the Cajuns against Tigers freshman right-hander Cole McKay (0-0, 5.40).
“I think (Guillory) matches up with them pretty good,” Robichaux said. “He’s a three-pitch guy, and he’s effective when he throws off-speed for strikes. We saw this weekend what happens when guys get off-speed over the plate.”
Both teams are coming off unexpected home series losses. LSU had won in 10 outings before losing both ends of a Saturday doubleheader against Alabama. The visiting Crimson Tide won 6-0 and 4-3 on Saturday in a twinbill forced due to a Friday rainout, before the Tigers rallied for a 7-5 win in Sunday’s final game.
UL-Lafayette also had to play two Saturday after Friday’s rain and rolled past Little Rock 15-4 in the opener. But the Trojans, who were swept in their opening Sun Belt series, rallied to win 10-5 in the Saturday nightcap and won the series with a 7-1 Sunday victory.
The Cajuns had only five hits in the Sunday loss, snapping a streak of four straight double-digit hit games.
LSU and UL-Lafayette faced off in last year’s NCAA super regional round at Alex Box Stadium, with the Tigers advancing to the College World Series with 4-3 and 6-3 wins. Those losses snapped a streak of eight straight postseason wins for the Cajuns, who lost the first game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament before winning five in a row there and three straight in the NCAA Houston regional.
“Last year’s team became very good at the end of the season because they learned how to come back,” Robichaux said. “The last two years, we were good at coming from behind. ... They were good at coming back from losing. That’s what this year’s team needs to learn, and we have a chance to do that (Tuesday) against LSU.”
The Pontiff Classic starts a compact but busy week for the Cajuns, who host Georgia State in a Sun Belt series at Moore Field that will be played Thursday-Saturday instead of the normal Friday-Sunday due to the Easter holiday. This season marks the first year that the Sun Belt has moved its Easter weekend games up one day, something that Robichaux has long pushed for. “This will be my first Easter Sunday with my family in maybe 30 years,” he said Monday ... Games are at 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and Saturday’s game has been moved from a scheduled 1 p.m. start to 11 a.m. to accommodate Georgia State travel plans ... The Cajuns are 1-2 on neutral fields going into Tuesday’s game, losing to TCU and Texas Tech and beating Rice in February’s Shriners Hospital for Children Classic at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.