LAFAYETTE — Consider this four-year stretch for the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball program: 184 wins against 72 losses, two conference championships, three conference tournament titles, four NCAA tournament appearances, and currently, two super regional appearances.
The Cajuns have hosted regional tournaments in 2014 and 2106 after hosting one in the program’s entire history. They won a school-record 58 games in 2014, earning a No. 1 ranking across all major polls, and have put together the second string of four straight 40-win seasons in school history.
“It’s special. It’s real special,” said senior pitcher Nick Zaunbrecher, who along with Nick Thurman and Joe Robbins is one of three players on the roster to be a part of all four teams.
It’s still going for those three, but on the ride back from the Sun Belt Conference tournament in San Marcos, Texas, Zaunbrecher and Thurman took time to reflect on the stretch.
It’s been unlikely, considering the usual circumstances that govern college sports prestige. The Cajuns are the only regional tournament host this season to come from a non-power conference. They’ve risen above the mid-major label to force themselves into the conversation, and it’s something they’re intensely proud of.
“What better streak could you ask for?” Zaunbrecher said. “Everybody wants to talk about playing the (Southeastern Conference), playing here, playing there, but we’ve played at one of the most elite programs in the country the past four years. I think it says a lot, and it makes me proud to be here in Louisiana playing for Lafayette. It’s a great town, a great place. It’s really special for me.”
It’s arguably the greatest four-year stretch the program has ever seen.
The Cajuns teams of 1988-91 were the only teams that won more games (186), but the current Cajuns still have time to match or exceed that number, and they’ve already fared better in the postseason.
There’s one missing accomplishment, though.
The 1997-2000 teams did not win as frequently, amassing 173 wins over a four-year period.
They didn’t enjoy the same conference tournament success either, winning once. But they hold the one major trump card: that 2000 College World Series appearance.
That last bit bugs Thurman.
“We’ve all talked about it a lot, us three guys,” Thurman said. “I think we need to finish it off. We’ve been to a regional. We’ve been to supers back-to-back. It’s about time we seal the deal and make the push.”
That push, of course, is the push to Omaha, Nebraska.
It’s the last unchecked box on the career checklist for Thurman, Robbins and Zaunbrecher.
They’ve been close. They were one win away in that magical 2014 season, losing to Ole Miss, and though they went 0-2 in last year’s super regional against LSU, they pushed the Tigers hard.
The hope is that the experience of being so close before pays off this season, the last crack for Zaunbrecher, Thurman and Robbins.
“Being a senior and being through those situations, you kind of know what the atmosphere is going to be like, what the fans are going to be like,” Thurman said. “You know how the teams are going to play, everyone plays their best game. You’re not going to get to just walk through the gates of Omaha, we’ve got to play our best every game.”
So what does that experience tell them?
While they took the time to look back on their previous success on their way home from San Marcos, they know that from now until the end of the season there is no more time for reflection. There’s also no time to think of those Omaha dreams.
“Don’t look too far ahead, don’t look in the past,” Thurman said. “Just live in the moment.”