UL first baseman Ben Fitzgerald is hoping to carry his hot start to the season into Sun Belt play which begins Friday against Coastal Carolina.

While everyone else in the Sun Belt Conference began league play last weekend, UL and Coastal Carolina gets going with the conference season at 6 p.m. Friday at Russo Park.

“They play in a great system,” UL coach Matt Deggs said of Chantileers. “They play a lot like we do, it’s fast, hard, loose. They can run the ball out of the ballpark, they can run, they’re very dynamic, so they present a challenge in multiple ways.

"You’ve got to be able to defend a lot of different things.”

So far this season, Coastal (13-6) has three hitters in Parker Chavers (.346 batting average, two home runs, 21 RBIs, seven stolen bases), BT Riopelle (.343, three HRs, nine RBIs, six SBs) and Eric Brown (.324, six HRs, 18 RBIs) who are off to great starts, compared to one for the Cajuns in Ben Fitzgerald (.343, five HRs, 11 RBIs).

“I think we’re still a long way from what we’re capable of being,” Deggs said. “We’re capable of doing some great stuff offensively, but our consistency levels just haven’t been there. You’ve got to be able to string together several at-bats in a row. I haven’t seen that from these guys. That’s something we’ve got to work to do.”

Coastal is hitting .268 with 141 runs, 33 doubles, seven triples, 28 homers and 26 stolen bases. UL counters at .241, 93 runs, 36 doubles, five triples, 18 homers and 35 steals.

“First and foremost, it starts in the strike zone,” Deggs said of Coastal’s offense. “The way to stay any type of running game or any kind of dynamic offense is you get the hitter.”

Coastal’s pitching has a 4.50 ERA and opponents are batting .250 with 77 walks and 177 strikeouts in 176 innings. UL is better in almost each of those categories with a 3.98 team ERA, .221 opponents batting average and 201 strikeouts in 192 innings, but the Cajuns have issued 103 walks.

“Just recently, walks have kind of been a theme for us and I know we’re better than that and we can correct it,” Deggs said.

The Chanticleers have two pitchers with five starts in Nick Parker (1-1, 3.71 ERA, 14 strikeouts, 26 2/3 innings pitched) and Jacob Maton (2-2, 5.16, 22 Ks, 22.2 IP), while Casey Green (0-0, 5.62, seven Ks, eight8 IP) is next with three starts. All three are right-handers.

Southpaw Reid VanScoter (2-0, 1.96 ERA, 13 Ks, 18.1 IP), though, is slated for his second start Friday.

The Cajuns (11-10) have established an ace in Spencer Arrighetti (3-1, 1.01, 32 Ks, 26 2/3 IP). Carter Robinson (1-1, 3.20, 20 K, 25 1/3 IP) has consistently pitched on Sundays, while freshman Hayden Durke (2-2, 6.20 ERA, 26 K, 20 1/3 IP) began Friday and only threw two innings Saturday against TCU.

“I think Durkey needs a little rest to catch his breath a little bit and get back to who he is,” Deggs said. “You’ve got to remember, he’s just a freshman. A lot has been asked of him. He’s handled it for the most part really, really well. He’s handled everything he controls outstandingly well.

“Obviously we need him, but we need to get him back refocused and re-energized and feeling good about himself.”

One different thing about the conference season for Deggs is UL didn’t play any league games during the 2020 shortened season.It’s been seven years since Deggs went through a Sun Belt season in terms of familiarity with the league’s personnel.

“It’ll be a battle,” Deggs said. “It’s dog eat dog in this league. You look at Little Rock. They just swept Texas State, who was picked to win the league. Every team is capable of beating anybody.

“It’ll be the be the team that plays the hardest, is the most consistent, and is willing to do whatever it takes every single weekend to get the job done. That’ll be the team that wins this league.”

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