LAFAYETTE — When Louisiana-Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux looks at scouting reports for Texas State, he sees the ghosts of Ragin’ Cajuns past.
The Bobcats, in their first year in the Sun Belt Conference, come to M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field for a three-game weekend series beginning Friday and bring a squad that approaches the game very much like most of Robichaux’s teams.
“They can really pitch,” said Robichaux, whose 37-5 team holds a three-game lead in the Sun Belt standings entering the weekend. “They’ve got a lot of arms, and they’ve been playing good defense behind those guys. We’re going to have to match them on the mound if we’re going to be successful.”
Texas State (23-18, 11-7 Sun Belt) is third in the league standings thanks to its pitching staff. All three of the Bobcats’ projected weekend starters are ranked in the Sun Belt’s top 10 in earned run average, and Friday night starter and junior right-hander Austen Williams (6-1) leads the league with a 2.58 mark.
As a staff, the Bobcats are at 3.63, have walked fewer batters (119) than any other league team, and their 295 strikeouts is second only to Troy entering the week. Their numbers in Sun Belt play are even better — a league-best 3.04 ERA, only 51 walks and 127 strikeouts in 18 conference games.
For years, UL-Lafayette found its biggest success through Robichaux’s formula of pitching, defense and timely hitting. Texas State followed that example to the letter Wednesday night in a 2-0 home victory over Baylor, which also happened to be head coach Ty Harrington’s 500th career win. Four pitchers, including Bobcats career saves leader Hunter Lemke, combined on a five-hit shutout and the hosts got three of their six hits in the eighth inning to plate the game’s only runs.
The difference this season is that the second-ranked Cajuns are putting up eye-popping offensive statistics to go along with their league-leading pitching and defense marks. UL-Lafayette is hitting .327 as a team overall and .357 in conference play, both far and away the conference’s top marks, and five of the Sun Belt’s top eight hitters are in the Cajun lineup led by the .396 and .388 averages of second baseman Jace Conrad and left fielder Caleb Adams.
Conrad currently boasts a .486 batting average through 18 Sun Belt games while Adams is at .422 and has seven of his team-leading nine homers in league play.
UL-Lafayette ranks first nationally in homers and triples and is second in team batting average and doubles.
“Our guys have just kept coming and coming,” said associate head coach Anthony Babineaux. “If one doesn’t do it, the next guy will. We’ve been tremendous all year long on extending innings with two outs. Most teams that we’ve played, if the leadoff guy doesn’t get on they have a tough time scoring.”
That could describe the visiting Bobcats, who are hitting only .255 as a team. Texas State has the second-fewest extra-base hits of any Sun Belt team, and only South Alabama (135) has scored fewer runs than the Bobcats (196) among league teams.
But they haven’t needed many, as they held a good-hitting Georgia State team to four runs in three games in sweeping a Sun Belt series last weekend.
Cajun junior right-hander Austin Robichaux (5-2, 3.14) is slated to return to his regular Friday starting slot after missing two weekends with tendinitis and will match up with Williams. Junior right-hander Carson Baranik (8-0, 278), one of eight pitchers nationally still perfect with at least eight decisions, will face Bobcat junior right-hander Taylor Black (3-4, 3.22) in Saturday’s 6:05 p.m. ESPN3-broadcast game, and senior lefty Cody Boutte (5-0, 2.91) matches up with sophomore right-hander Lucas Humpal (3-3, 3.59) in Sunday’s 1 p.m. finale.