All season long, it’s almost like UL baseball coach Matt Deggs was trying to speak it into existence.
“Fast, hard and loose,” he’d say.
That’s the aggressive offensive approach some of his better teams possessed in his career — including the memorable 2014 Ragin’ Cajuns squad.
If you take that phrase literally, though, it can be a bit deceiving. He’s not actually preaching to just swing for the fences every at-bat with no worries.
It’s about not being so afraid to fail that when discipline is required, it can be executed without fear.
It’s about playing with enough confidence that when an opportunity to win the game arises in the ninth inning, his batter’s swing overcomes the odds and produces that game-winning run often enough to produce 40-win regular seasons.
For whatever reason, it just never matched up with this 2021 UL baseball squad.
Saturday’s season-ending 3-2 loss to Georgia Southern in 11 innings was a perfect illustration of that disappointing reality.
“I thought the game was a microcosm of our season, actually,” Deggs said in his postgame interview.
There were certainly plenty of bright spots in the season, like the sweep of regional host Louisiana Tech and like closing out the Sun Belt regular season with two series win to claim the No. 1 seed in the west race.
And in the Georgia Southern game, there were good things. The team’s speed and athleticism stole a run in the second inning. The team’s pitching kept the team in it long enough to force extra innings with a run in the ninth when the game appeared over.
Senior outfielder Brennan Breaux had a great at-bat in that ninth that we’d still be talking about had the Cajuns gone on to win the conference tournament.
Instead, that success with his single to right just adds to the frustration of what happened later that inning.
“You’ve got somebody on the ropes like that, you’ve got to finish them,” a frustrated Deggs said after the game.
After tying the game at 2-2 in the ninth, the Cajuns still had runners on first and second with no outs.
Instead of seizing the great opportunity, UL struck out trying to get a sacrifice bunt down, then fouled out and flew out to end the threat.
The big hit — especially the big two-out hit — once again didn’t come.
Just like stranding a runner at third with one out in the first, the big hit that might have unleashed his offense's fury just wasn’t to be found.
In these parts, it’s called delivering the “coup de grace” — something Deggs hoped a team called the Ragin’ Cajuns would be good at, but just could never attain.
Deggs quickly reminded us after Saturday's loss the Cajuns didn’t enjoy one walk-off victory all season long. It was obviously a source of lingering frustration bubbling inside him throughout the year.
He hoped it would change over time. He hoped he could speak it into existence with his optimism.
He hoped Ben Fitzgerald's eighth-inning grand slam late Thursday night that helped vault UL into the semifinals matchup with Georgia Southern would do the trick.
It just never materialized.
“We’re a fun group to watch, we’re exciting, but we're still a ways away from where we need to get to,” Deggs said. “It was a good first year for this group. I really consider it our first year together. Last year was COVID — 17 games.
“I’m proud of the way they fought and found a way to win the division. I felt like we could have really made some noise in this tournament. I wish we would have executed a little bit better.”
The season ended 32-23 — not bad, but not good enough in Deggs’ eyes.
“There are no moral victories if you don’t walk out of here with a championship,” he said. “Our standards have to be raised a lot higher. It’s got to get a lot higher.”
Something tells me the 2022 UL squad — however it’s comprised — will hear the necessity of getting big hits late in games so often this offseason that it'll seem more like an obsession than a mantra.
“We’ve got to improve,” Deggs said. “We’re not where this program needs to be. I think we’ve taken a step towards that, but this is a program that needs to be fighting for a regional and a super regional every year. That’s where we need to get back to.
“We’ve got to improve in just about every facet. I like the way that we competed, but we’ve got to keep getting better.”