Even in the ups and downs of a roller-coaster season, Louisiana-Lafayette’s baseball lineup has not deviated much from the one that began the season in San Antonio.
When UL-Lafayette (39-21) begins play at 2:30 p.m. Friday in the NCAA’s Houston regional against second-seeded Rice, the Ragin’ Cajuns will likely start eight of the nine hitters that were in the Feb. 13 opening-day lineup against UTSA — especially if they face Owls junior right-hander Jordan Stephens (6-4, 3.12 ERA).
The Cajuns started Nick Thurman at catcher, Greg Davis, Brenn Conrad, Blake Trahan and Evan Powell in the infield, Kyle Clement, Joe Robbins and Dylan Butler in the outfield and Tyler Girouard at designated hitter against right-handed pitching on opening day. The only difference in the lineup in Sunday’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament final against South Alabama right-hander Kevin Hill was Stefan Trosclair taking Robbins’ spot.
Robbins did enter Sunday’s game in a defensive switch and wound up with a rally-starting single in the 12th inning, a frame that included Trosclair’s game-winning grand-slam.
Some of the positions were different, with those shifts necessitated by Trosclair’s return to the defensive lineup after a year-long recovery from a labrum injury. Trosclair was the DH in the second game of the season when UL-Lafayette faced left-handed pitching, but didn’t move into the defensive lineup until midseason.
“I’ll say it again, when we got Trosclair on the field, he was the difference-maker,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said. “He’s the guy that really helped get us going. It’s not ironic that he got the big grand slam when we needed the big lick to win the ball game.”
Trosclair enters the NCAA regional ranked 10th nationally in both home runs with 16 and in slugging percentage with a .682 mark, both of which led the Sun Belt. He’s three off the national home-run lead, with Kyle Nowlin of Eastern Kentucky and David Thompson of regional-host Miami (Fla.) both at 19.
“We didn’t have the guy at second base that we wanted early,” Robichaux said. “Trosclair plays the game with arrogance. He and (Clement) have made us much more physical.”
UL-Lafayette’s true-freshman trio of Gunner Leger (6-4, 2.95), Wyatt Marks (6-1, 3.25) and Evan Guilory (4-0, 4.08) started each of the Cajuns’ last five weekend series, and each also had a key role in last weekend’s Sun Belt tournament.
Only two other schools nationally, Cincinnati and San Jose State, had three freshman starters for the majority of the season. Those schools wound up 15-39 and 15-43 respectively, making UL-Lafayette the only NCAA entry with three frosh in the rotation.
In addition, neither of those two had a true-freshman closer, which the Cajuns have in Dylan Moore (3-3, 1.54) and his school-record-tying 11 saves.
“I think that’s pretty cool,” said Marks, who checked Texas State on four hits, no runs and eight strikeouts over eight innings in one of last Saturday’s elimination games. “It’s not something that we talk about a lot, but it’s neat that we’ve all been able to step in and help us be successful.”
“That’s one thing that’s great about this time of year,” Robichaux said. “They’re still freshmen but they’re not really freshmen any more. They’re veteran-like now because they’ve been through so much this season.”
Robichaux has also signed right-hander Nick Lee of South Beauregard and left-hander Hogan Harris of Lafayette’s St. Thomas More, generally regarded as the state’s top prep pitchers, as part of next year’s freshman class.
“Bringing back the pitching staff we’re going to bring back, and with our signees,” Robichaux said, “everybody’s going to think the sky’s falling when we give up the first earned run next year.”
The weather problems that have plagued Houston made an impact on the Cajuns on Wednesday, as their scheduled mid-day practice was forced into the Moncla Indoor Facility after morning rains.
The squad departed for Houston at about 2 p.m. following the practice session, and will hold their official NCAA practice from 1-2:15 p.m. Thursday at Cougar Field.
UL-Lafayette was allotted 200 tickets at the 3,500-seat Cougar Field, and those were sold out before a public sale.
UH ticket officials announced Wednesday that as of noon, all-session reserved ticket packages were sold out. Those were offered only to members of the Cougar Pride fund-raising group, Houston season ticket holders in all sports and UH students.
Friday’s first day of the Houston regional will air online on ESPN3, but Lafayette-area fans will be able to watch in a more baseball-friendly environment.
UL-Lafayette will host a watch party for all Cajun games in the regional, with the telecast airing on the Moore Field scoreboard and fans able to watch from the field or from the stands. Admission is free and free popcorn will be available as long as supplies last. Other concessions including beer will be available for purchase.
A baseball town
Houston Baptist, which faces UH in Friday’s 7 p.m. first round, is making its first NCAA tournament appearance. HBU, in only its second year as a Division I program, won the Southland Conference tournament to earn that league’s automatic berth. The Huskies (28-25) also took a mid-week win over the Cougars earlier this season.
With the three Houston-based teams in this regional and SWAC champion Texas Southern headed north to take part in the College Station regional, all four Houston-based Division I schools are in the NCAA tournament in the same season for the first time.