HOUSTON — Here comes the grind.
It’s rolling with a full head of steam into the Baton Rouge super regional, all greased up from its eight straight wins. It’s a group of grinders, of dirtbags, of Ragin’ Cajuns ready and willing to eke out a win with a deftly placed sacrifice bunt and a mouthful of dirt that comes on the slide into home, if that’s what it takes.
The grind is almost never pretty, unless you’re the type who appreciates the primal nature of it all, to go until you cannot any more.
No, the grind is a dirty thing, best suited for those who don’t entertain the illusion they’re something they’re not.
The grind is sweat. The grind is vintage Charlie Hustle.
It is the process of winning by sheer power of will, despite every reason pointing toward you landing in the losers’ bracket.
It is advancing through the first two games of a regional tournament against teams seeded higher than you despite not sniffing a lead until the ninth inning.
The Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette are the grind.
What they just accomplished can’t be chalked up simply to them being better than the teams across from them.
Surely, the Cajuns have a talented roster. Their shortstop, Blake Trahan, might be considered one of the two best players on the field at the Baton Rouge super regional, along with his contemporary, Alex Bregman.
But it wasn’t talent that won the Cajuns the Houston regional; it was the 3-2 breaking balls that buckled knees and the swinging bunt singles that broke hearts and spirits.
It wasn’t luck, either.
Luck doesn’t bring five runs home in the ninth inning when you’re trailing by four. It doesn’t bring two runs across when you’re trailing by one, either. Luck is chance, not the continuous pressure the Cajuns heaped on the other team when it counted.
The Cajuns forced their luck through the grind.
That’s the refusal to believe the team is out of it when everybody else is looking ahead to the losers’ bracket matchup. That’s the conviction to act upon that positive belief and make it come to fruition with a little elbow grease.
The grind grits its teeth and gets the job done when you’re protecting a two-run lead with no outs and the bases are loaded.
The grind calls for a sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning when your best hitter is at the plate, because the grind knows the guys behind him are going to find a way to make something happen.
The grind is going to be needed this week more than ever.
There is no such thing as going into LSU with the assumption that you’re going to out-hit, out-pitch and out-field a team that is up to its gills in future professionals. Walk into Alex Box Stadium with that pretense, and you’ll be planning your vacation on the way out.
But when the game gets close in the late innings, when the jerseys are stained with that mixture of infield dirt and outfield grass found nowhere but a baseball park, when the players need to find that extra something to make the play?
That’s where the Cajuns can confidently reach into their inner reservoir they know is full. They know how to grind because they’ve lived it in a season when everything was rarely going right. This inexperienced team was raised in a season when an inch here or there was often the difference between a win and a loss.
The Cajuns grew up in the grind this season, and now they intimately know it.
And now, it appears, they know how to use it when it becomes necessary.