Just four short games ago, the 2021 UL baseball season was really shaping up nicely.
The Ragin’ Cajuns had just destroyed Arkansas State for the second straight game to improve to 7-1 in Sun Belt play and 20-11 overall.
A week and a half later, suddenly it feels like the season is at a crossroads as coach Matt Deggs’ club prepares for Wednesday’s 6 p.m. midweek home game against McNeese State at Russo Park.
On that Sunday, UL hit seven home runs and lost 16-11 in the series finale.
A week later, the Cajuns’ offense struggled to score any runs at all in getting swept at South Alabama.
No player has had any bigger role in UL’s recent offensive surge than junior outfielder Connor Kimple.
Now, UL is 20-15 overall, mired in a three-way tie for first place in the Sun Belt West at 7-5 and its RPI dropped to 60.
It goes deeper than that, however.
The two teams currently tied atop the Sun Belt West standings are Little Rock and Texas-Arlington. The Cajuns play at Little Rock this weekend and later must travel to UTA in mid-May.
It’s too small and too mixed a sample size to say the 2021 Cajuns are a bad road team with a 6-9 record. They opened with two wins at Tulane and did sweep ULM a few weekends ago.
But the disaster week in Mississippi and this recent sweep at South Alabama does raise concerns about possessing the consistency necessary to win tough series away from home.
If you remember, things weren’t looking so hot going into Sun Belt play. The bats were struggling and the defense was really heading down a bad path.
Over the first three weekends of league play, those two key facets improved dramatically. The result was an encouraging seven-game winning streak.
A month later, however, those two areas raised another red flag in Mobile with UL’s defense giving up more unearned runs (nine) than the offense scored (five) in the series.
There are a lot of ways to explain UL’s hitting barrage since those two fateful practice sessions coach Matt Deggs has referred to on several …
It’s hard to win anywhere with that formula, but especially on the road.
Moreover, don’t forget the home series in between those two daunting road tests is against Texas State — a team also disappointed in its 15-22, 5-7 record — but also the team picked to win the West race.
Fortunately, baseball’s curse can also be its blessing. While the last four games proved how silly it is to get cocky over a 20-11, 7-1 start, the truth is a weekend sweep can just swiftly change the outlook in a brighter direction.
Another factor to ponder is how the Sun Belt race is shaping up. There doesn’t appear to be a huge difference between the best and the worst teams. All 12 teams are one good or one bad weekend away from middle of the pack.
That’s both encouraging and an indication the Sun Belt is headed toward being a one-bid league.
Typically, mid-major leagues need a more top-heavy race to get multiple teams into the postseason.
Apparently, for UL junior slugger Ben Fitzgerald, it was about getting comfortable defensively.
The Cajuns still have the pitching depth to get on a roll again. This troubling four-game losing streak could end up being a minor detour in an otherwise successful season
Before even considering what could happen in late May in Montgomery, however, the Cajuns need to figure out a way to score runs and play defense this weekend in Little Rock.