ACA.ulbaseball.050922.252.jpg

UL right fielder Heath Hood, shown here pointing to the dugout after his double in Sunday's win, is among the hottest hitters in the Sun Belt in recent week heading into this weekend's critical road series at Texas State.

Perhaps last weekend’s warm temperatures were simply preparing the UL Ragin’ Cajuns for the oven awaiting them during this weekend’s critical Sun Belt Conference road trip to Texas State in San Marcos.

The weather forecast calls for 95 degrees for Saturday’s 4 p.m. start and  99 degrees for Sunday’s 1 p.m. finale. The series begins with a 6 p.m. Friday evening contest.

“We’re going to have to go down to a really good Texas State ball club and play our best games of the year,” UL coach Matt Deggs said. “That’s just a simple fact. They’re very good in that ballpark. It’s going to be hot, hot, hot. The wind is going to be blowing out. We’re going to have to work hard to eliminate free stuff and capitalize on opportunities when we get them offensively.”

The Cajuns (30-17, 17-7) enter the series trailing the first-place Bobcats (38-11, 20-4) by three games. Second-place Georgia Southern (32-16, 18-6) is playing at Arkansas-Little Rock this weekend.

UL is coming off a home sweep of Texas-Arlington while playing in warm temperatures, and a two-game sweep at Rice in Houston.

“I thought the difference in the series was our mental and physical conditioning,” Deggs said of the Texas-Arlington series. “It speaks to the conditioning of those pitchers is remarkable.

“To go through what (Jacob Schultz) went through (over seven innings) and (Brandon) Talley with the stuff he had, I’m very proud of their conditioning to be able to endure the heat and all of those taxing outings. I mean this is way more than any of them have ever thrown.”

With a team as hot on the field as Texas State has been all season, the challenges don’t stop with the toasty weather conditions.

The Bobcats, who began the week with a 38 RPI compared to UL’s 53, have two starting pitchers with ERAs under 3.00 in Levi Wells (6-1, 2.42 ERA) and Zeke Wood (5-1, 2.92) — both with 12 starts on the season.

That doesn’t include relief ace Triston Dixon (8-0, 2.00) with one start in 23 appearances or ace closer Tristan Stivors (1-1, 2.57, 12 saves).

If those numbers aren’t scary enough, consider the fact Texas State is known as a hitting team. Its offensive figures back that up. The Bobcats are hitting .300 with 401 runs scored, 99 doubles, 13 triples, 69 homers and 59 stolen bases.

Dalton Shuffield (.387, 10 HRs, 40 RBIs), Justin Thompson (.337, 8 HRs, 36 RBIs) and Jose Gonzalez (.301, 7 HRs, 46 RBIs) lead the way.

Both teams are good on the road: Texas State 15-5 and UL 14-7. All four of Texas State’s Sun Belt losses this season have come at home.

While the Bobcats haven’t played since Sunday's 5-4 win over UL-Monroe, Deggs hopes UL's two wins at Rice will keep the Cajuns sharp.

UL’s slow start means its overall offensive numbers aren’t as good, but the Cajuns have been as hot as any team in the league over the last month.

Leading the way are Carson Roccaforte (.367, 13 HRs, 55 RBIs), Connor Kimple (.327, 8 HRs, 33 RBIs), Julian Brock (.321, 5 HRs, 27 RBIs) and Heath Hood (.336, 4 HRs, 28 RBIs).

After registering 33 hits against Rice, the Cajuns are hitting .279 with 291 runs, 80 doubles, 24 triples, 44 homers and 111 steals.

“I like length in the lineup,” Deggs said while discussing Brock’s move to the top of the order last weekend. “You try to guess a little bit where some RBI spots are going to come up just based on how guys are going and what you’re planning to do going into that game.

“I’d love to see him hit fifth, but there’s something to him being at the bottom, too. It just seems to find him when he’s down there.”

This weekend’s lineups may depend on the hunch most have for a high-scoring series.

“I think you’ve got to factor that,” Deggs said. “I look at their offense versus who I know is going to be throwing for us and kind of make an educated guess of what we’re going to have to get to. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

“Offense is tricky. I might try to put something together for us, but you don’t know if you’re going to hit balls right at people or somebody just might not have it that night.”

Overall, the Cajuns have won seven straight Sun Belt series since being swept at Troy in the league opener.

“On the field, I think we’re as prepared as anybody in the country,” Deggs said. “The way we work and the experiences that we’ve been blessed to have this year. You never say you’ve seen it all, because you haven’t, but if we can stay relatively healthy and kind of continue on this upward trend that we’re on, it should be an exciting finish.”


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.