MOBILE, Ala. — As the No. 2 team in the country and the top seed, Louisiana-Lafayette was the clear-cut favorite entering the Sun Belt Conference baseball tournament.
The first three days of the tournament have only reinforced that notion as the Ragin’ Cajuns (51-7) prepare to play Texas State (30-27) in a semifinal game at 9 a.m. Saturday at Stanky Field.
UL-Lafayette should be rested and ready after getting the day off Friday as a result of its 2-0 start, while the Bobcats survived by beating Louisiana-Monroe 4-2 in an elimination game Friday afternoon.
“We’ll definitely be fresh,” Cajuns outfielder Caleb Adams said. “It’s big to be able to recover and recuperate while everybody else is playing and sweating in the heat.”
UL-Lafayette had to sweat a little in its first game Wednesday but put away ULM and Tyler Bray, who had pitched well in two previous outing against the Cajuns. It overcame a poor outing by Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year Carson Baranik on Thursday to beat the Bobcats and Lucas Humpal, who didn’t allow an earned run in a 5.1-inning outing against the Cajuns in the regular season.
“That’s two games that we’ve come back against two pitchers that threw really well against us and we’ve been able to take them both down,” UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux said.
The Cajuns, who are second in the nation in runs scored and home runs, provided a slow, torturous demise to both opponents. In the first two games they have 23 hits — 21 singles and two doubles — and have supplemented that with 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts.
They were tied with ULM until scoring four runs in the bottom of the eighth. They spread their 11 runs against Texas State across the six innings in which they scored.
“A lot of people look at our power,” Robichaux said. “I’ve done countless interviews where people that don’t know us just look at the numbers and think that??s what we do — just sit and hit — but it’s the biggest mistake you can make from looking at us.
“We do a lot of things. We can run the bases, we can steal. The first game out we had to do a lot of short things to be able to beat (Bray). Everybody on this team — mandatory — has to be able to bunt. Everybody on this team mandatorily has to be able to squeeze no matter who you are. But we work at that. Our hitting catches do a great job with that.”
On Saturday, UL-Lafayette will start senior left-hander Cody Boutte (7-0, 2.77), who threw six scoreless innings, allowing seven hits, in a 2-0 win against the Bobcats on April 27 at Moore Field. The Cajuns won two out of three in the regular-season series.
The day off gives Robichaux lots of options with his pitching staff. Right-hander Matt Plitt, who has a sore ankle after it was hit by batted ball, likely will be unavailable Saturday, but might be able to return Sunday if UL-Lafayette reaches the championship game. Otherwise the bullpen is fully stocked.
“You can situation pitch and shorten games up,” Robichaux said of his bullpen’s freshness. “You can also recover if you have a bad start.”
That’s exactly what the Cajuns did after Texas State took a 4-3 lead against Baranik in the third inning before the bullpen threw 6.2 scoreless innings.
Robichaux said he could come back with Branik, who threw a season-low 2.1 innings Thursday, in the title game if UL-Lafayette gets there.