LAFAYETTE — Forty used to be a magic number in college baseball, with that many wins all but locking up a postseason berth.
Other factors go into NCAA tournament selection now, but getting to 40 is still a milestone — especially when you can become the first team in the country to hit that mark.
Louisiana-Lafayette will have that chance Tuesday and Wednesday when the Ragin’ Cajuns (39-6) take on Southeastern Louisiana (27-17) in a home-and-home series. The teams will play at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Alumni Field in Hammond, then will clash at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Moore Field in a makeup of a postponed game March 5.
The games are the final midweek outings for the Cajuns, who hold the nation’s best record. UL-Lafayette heads to Jonesboro, Ark., for a Sun Belt Conference series at Arkansas State from Friday through Sunday.
The only other team in the country that can get to 40 wins this week is Cal Poly (36-7).
“It used to be that 40 was your goal going into the conference tournament because you were pretty much already in the postseason,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said Monday. “Now we have an opportunity to get to 40 way before the tournament, and that says a lot about this team.”
UL-Lafayette survived for a 2-0 Sunday win over Texas State in its Sun Belt series finale, winning despite getting only one hit, which didn’t figure in the scoring. That gave the Cajuns their 12th straight series win — 11 of them this season — and kept them four games in front of their nearest Sun Belt competitor with three weekends to go.
“It was a unique weekend,” Robichaux said of Friday’s 8-6 win and Saturday’s 10-3 loss. “We didn’t pitch good on Friday — just so-so — and Saturday we didn’t pitch well again and took one on the chin. On Sunday, (pitcher) Cody Boutte really picked up our hitters, and (assistants Anthony Babineaux and Matt Deggs) and all our coaches took the team on Sunday and got that win for us.”
Robichaux was not there for half of Saturday’s game and all of Sunday’s win after being ejected, the Sunday absence coming after plate umpire Don Hudson reported Robichaux bumped him during an argument Saturday. Robichaux will miss both of the Southeastern games and the opener of the ASU series to complete his four-game suspension.
The Lions have some quality wins, having swept Tulane and South Alabama in home-and-home series. But SLU has struggled in the past week, losing all three games in a Southland Conference series at Sam Houston State over the weekend while scoring only five runs, and the Lions come into Tuesday on a four-game losing streak.
Even with the sweep, SLU is only three games out of first place in the Southland.
Senior right-hander Matt Hicks (5-0, 1.86 ERA), who threw five scoreless innings last Tuesday in an 8-0 win over McNeese State, is slated to start for UL-Lafayette on Tuesday against SLU junior righty Kyle Keller (3-2, 3.17). Robichaux said he wasn’t certain about Wednesday’s starter, but he indicated freshman righty Reagan Bazar (3-0, 1.80) may get his first start after 20 relief appearances.
“We want to see (Bazar) potentially be a starter down the road,” Robichaux said. “We want to try to extend him a little bit and let him develop those other two pitches. We think the timing’s right because of the way our bullpen’s shaping up, and this week is really our last chance to do that.”
The Cajuns remain No. 2 in the USA Today coaches and the Perfect Game polls and No. 3 in the Baseball America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers polls after going 3-1 last week. In the Collegiate Baseball poll, where UL-Lafayette received its first No. 1 ranking earlier this season, they fell from third to sixth.
Despite Saturday’s loss and getting only one hit in Sunday’s win, UL-Lafayette remains the nation’s leader in slugging percentage (.518). The Cajuns also lead the nation in triples (24), are second in home runs (51), are third in team hitting (.321) and doubles (103) and are fourth in scoring (8.0 runs per game).
“It’s not a big concern,” Robichaux said about his team’s weekend hitting. “(Texas State) came in and pitched well. They know us and we know them, and we figured it would be a low-scoring situation. Those guys have done a great job all season. We want our pitchers to pick them up because (the hitters) have picked them up a lot along the way.
“With pitching you’re going to see at a regional, that’s very important. I’ll take those 13 or 14 hits and runs a game and I love to pitch behind that, but at a regional, if you think you’re going to score 15 runs on a guy like (LSU’s) Aaron Nola, you’re smoking crack.”