LAFAYETTE — With the heavy rains that pounded the Acadiana area overnight and Wednesday morning, those who were at Louisiana-Lafayette’s athletic complex were likely surprised to see the Ragin’ Cajuns baseball team on the field for an early-afternoon practice.
“I don’t know how many inches we got today, but we got a ton of rain,” UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux said. “And we’re still hitting on the field right now.”
The Cajuns can do that, and so can the other three teams taking part in this weekend’s NCAA Lafayette Regional, because of the ProGrass synthetic turf at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field, which was installed in time for the 2010 season.
In contrast to most artificial turf fields, the only dirt on the field is on the pitcher’s mound. The basepaths and warning track — normally dirt or cinder on turf fields — are a different color and consistency of turf.
“You wouldn’t want a grass field with the weather we got and will have this week,” Robichaux said. “Our bullpen’s not turf, and we can’t get back there right now.”
Robichaux took his pitchers into the Leon Moncla Indoor Facility for Wednesday’s workout. The 120-yard turf football field has batting cages at one end, but UL-Lafayette’s hitters were able to take batting practice and have their full workout outdoors on Wednesday. If bad weather hits Thursday, when all four regional teams are scheduled for practices, the indoor facility is available.
Robichaux said the turf has helped in two other key areas.
“In effect, we picked up a recruiter,” he said. “Bab (assistant head coach Anthony Babineaux) had the field, and now he gets to go on the road recruiting instead of maintenance. Plus, the time constraints — you get 20 hours a week and no more than four hours a day, and if we’d had this rain before, we’d spend 45 minutes to an hour of your four hours on field maintenance.
“Now, we just get out on the field, pull the tarp off the mound and go to practice. When we finish, we fix the mound and go home. It’s nice during games, too ... we can run in the dugout, let it finish raining and go right back out.”
Close is good
UL-Lafayette enters the NCAA tournament on a 10-game winning streak, the nation’s longest, but four of those victories and three of the last five came by one-run margins.
“I do like us playing close games the last two weeks,” Robichaux said, “because scores are going to come down from here on because pitching is going to get better now. You’re down to 64 teams playing now. I hope we score a lot of runs, but I’m glad the last two weeks we’ve had to come from behind and use a lot of the bullpen.”
Robichaux said Wednesday that junior righ-thander Austin Robichaux (7-2, 3.01) will start at 6 p.m. Friday against Jackson State. The Tigers are expected to start senior right-hander Desmond Russell (9-4, 3.50), who threw eight complete games this year and also hit .289 with two home runs and 24 RBIs.
The opening-game pitching matchup is identical to last year’s meeting between the teams in the elimination round of the Baton Rouge Regional. JSU, which lost to LSU in the opening round, led the Cajuns 1-0 until a four-run rally in the fifth inning gave UL-Lafayette the lead for good in what eventually became a 15-1 win.
Austin Robichaux threw eight innings in that game, scattering nine hits and giving up the one earned run while fanning eight in getting his ninth and final win of the year. Russell (3-1) got his first loss of the year, allowing two hits and two walks through the first four innings before the four-run, five-hit fifth inning. He pitched into the eighth inning when the Cajuns added four more runs.
UL-Lafayette is expected to throw junior right-hander Carson Baranik (10-1, 3.30), the Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year, and senior lef-thander Cody Boutte (8-0, 2.75) in its second and potential third games, but the order of the rotation is to be determined.
“We’ll see who our opponent is in game two before we make that determination,” Tony Robichaux said.
Sophomore shortstop Blake Trahan was named one of six national Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball Players of the Week for his performance at last week’s Sun Belt tournament.
The Kinder native had the seventh-inning game-winning home run in the 6-5 victory over UT-Arlington in the title game, and he finished the tournament 7-of-12 with five runs batted in and four extra-base hits.
Trahan also remained on the watch list for the Brooks Wallace Award for to the nation’s top shortstop, which was cut to 16 players, and Baranik remained one of 18 players on the Pitcher of the Year watch list. Those were announced by the Collegiate Baseball Hall of Fame this week.
Thursday’s four practices are at 10 a.m. (UL-Lafayette), 11:30 a.m. (Mississippi State), 1 p.m. (San Diego State) and 2:30 p.m. (Jackson State), with each team getting 75 minutes on the field. Practices are open to the public ... Deadline for UL-Lafayette season ticket holders and RCAF annual fund donors to purchase ticket booklets for the tournament was 5 p.m. Wednesday. If any ticket books remain, they will go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday to the public. An announcement on ticket availability is expected Thursday.