Something needed to change.
UL’s offensive numbers in 2018 just weren’t good enough.
A year ago, the Cajuns hit .242 with 290 runs, 88 doubles, 16 triples, 29 homers and 89 stolen bases.
In comes new assistant coach Jake Wells.
UL senior Daniel Lahare knew deep down it was going to happen eventually.
During his coaching career, Wells had spent time at Louisiana Tech, Alabama and Mississippi State. He was most recently at Campbell.
Through the Cajuns’ first 11 games, UL scored four or fewer runs seven times. The lineup was struggling to produce with runners in scoring position. For most fans, there wasn’t a noticeable upgrade.
Fast-forward to mid-May and UL’s hitters are carrying the team to what Wells and the Cajuns are counting on being a surprising postseason run. That red-hot lineup hopes to secure a Sun Belt tournament berth in convincing fashion this weekend when it begins a three-game road series against UL Monroe at 6 p.m. Thursday.
“I just think it was some breaks that baseball gives you here and there,” Wells said of the slow start. “Baseball gives you some struggles at times. I guess I knew it was a matter of time, because our guys show up every day and work hard.
“We had no choice but to get better. When your players show up to compete with energy and passion, you’ve got no choice. The game is going to reward you.”
So while fans and media may have remained skeptical until the second half of the season, Wells said he never doubted his hitters.
“They do things the right way,” Wells said. “When you do things the right way, you’re going to have success. We’re seeing that down the stretch.
“It’s our guys. They deserve the credit. I’m telling you, I walked into a gold mine of human beings offensively. They show up every day, they want to be good and they’re having fun doing it.”
With the season potentially slipping away, UL’s offense has brought new life for the Cajuns. In the past 16 games, the Cajuns have scored five or more runs 12 times and eight or more runs nine times.
With at least three more games left to play, UL is hitting .276 as a team with a .423 slugging percentage (.348 last year), a .375 on-base percentage (.323), 313 runs, 86 doubles, 10 triples, 52 homers and 87 stolen bases.
“It’s an approach mindset for me,” Wells said. “I like to focus more on their minds and hearts than I do the mechanics of their swing. Sure, there are going to be some ebbs and flows and swing mechanics. I want to mend their hearts and minds when they get in the box.”
Suddenly, RBI situations are being conquered on a regular basis after stranding runners in scoring position was a big part of the early season struggles.
“We’ve had some success the last couple of weeks of driving runners in, but we didn’t change anything that we’ve done,” Wells said. “We showed up and worked hard that day.
"We took advantage of every single day and got better every single day. And when we didn’t get better, I let them know. ‘Hey guys, we didn’t get better today.’ And what’s so good about our guys is they know. They know when they maybe took a step back and they show up the next day 10 times better.
“It’s not like we harped on having to drive runners in every day.”
There hasn’t been a lot of consistency around the UL Ragin’ Cajuns baseball team during its pre-conference schedule.
Perhaps Wells’ biggest success story is senior transfer Orynn Veillon, who is hitting .302 with 11 doubles, nine homers, 37 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.
“I think Orynn’s just an older guy who is starting to come into his own a little bit and figure it out with more reps every day. To be honest, Orynn Veillon is one of the biggest transition guys to the positive that I’ve seen in my career. He’s got real skill and real talent.
“When he first came in here, he was a wild man. Now he can flat-out hit. He’s right around .300, his extra-base numbers are elevated. He’s on pace to have one of the best years he’s had in college baseball from a total standpoint. That guy is just an unbelievable kid and athlete. I love the dude.”
As for the incredible second half delivered by Todd Lott (.343, seven HRs, 42 RBIs), Wells gives coach Tony Robichaux all the credit.
“To be totally honest, I attribute Todd Lott’s success to Tony Robichaux,” Wells said. “That’s because he stayed with him and he kept him in the lineup. Todd got off to a skid, but he said, ‘That’s our guy. He’s the guy we sat down with at the end of the year and said you’re going to be our guy every single day.’ "He didn’t waver from that and now you’re seeing a Todd Lott with confidence. Now you’re starting to see what that guy can do. He’s a special player."
It wasn’t like it was the first time he’s had big games during the 2019 season for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns.
UL at UL Monroe
Series: 6 p.m. Thursday; 6 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Saturday.
Radio: KPEL 96.5 FM.
Records: UL 25-28, 13-14; ULM 23-27, 11-15.
Series: UL leads 91-52, including last 25.
SBC scenarios: UL needs one win or one Arkansas State loss this weekend to qualify for the Sun Belt tourney. Cajuns can get as high as No. 6 seed with a sweep, as well as App. St. and South Alabama winning two of three.