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Baseball: Cajuns face yet another challenge in Super Regional vs. LSU

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, June 2, 2015


The UL baseball team fought through the losers bracket to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, beating No. 1 SBC seed South Alabama in the championship game.

The Ragin’ Cajuns won the four-team, double-elimination NCAA Houston Regional, sweeping through with three straight victories including two over Rice and one in between over No. 1 Regional seed Houston.

They’ve won a season-high eight in a row, and on Tuesday, based on their Regional finish, the Cajuns are nationally ranked for the first time this season, debuting at No. 16 in Collegiate Baseball’s poll.

The reward?

"Now," coach Tony Robichaux said, "you look up and you’ve got the dubious pleasure of going on in to LSU, to play in one of the toughest places there is to play in America."

The 42-21 Cajuns open at 7 p.m. Saturday in Game 1 of the best-two-out-of-three NCAA Baton Regional Super Regional against No. 2 national seed LSU, which at 51-10 after winning the Baton Rouge Regional championship game remains No. 1 in the country.

Earlier this season, LSU — ranked No. 3 at the time — beat UL 8-6 in a midweek game, the Wally Pontiff Classic, at Zephyr Field in Metairie.

Last season, when UL finished went 58-10 and lost to Ole Miss in the Lafayette Super Regional, the Cajuns beat then-No. 1 LSU 4-1 in a rain-shortened regular-season midweek game in Baton Rouge.

And two seasons ago, UL was bounced from the Baton Rouge Regional with a 5-1 loss to LSU.

That marked the seventh time in five different years since 1990 that the Cajuns and Tigers have met in a Regional game, with LSU having won all but one of those — the lone exception being in 2002, when the Tigers rebounded from a 5-0 loss to take two from the Cajuns and eliminate them from the Baton Rouge Regional.

Never before, however, have the two schools separated by 60 miles or so across Interstate 10 squared off in a Super Regional.

It’s not the history, however, that matters to Robichaux so much as it is the present.

"Our biggest challenge is going to be … to slow the game down, and just play baseball," he said. "Not only can their (LSU’s) fans speed you up, but their team plays fast, too.

"Because of that, they can spin the game out of control on you," Robichaux added. "We’re gonna have to deal with adrenaline."

The Cajuns also must deal with a decided underdog role.

UL lost six position starters and four pitchers from last season who were either selected in the Major League Baseball Draft or have played in the minors, and perhaps no one except those within expected another Super Regional.

Yet now they’re one of only six programs — along with Louisville, Maryland, Texas Christian, Vanderbilt and Virginia – playing consecutive Super Regionals.

Still, it’s LSU with the high ranking — one Robichaux doesn’t want his Cajuns to be intimidated by.

"I told the team (Monday) night, ‘You don’t have to be ranked No. 1 to be No. 1,’" he said. "’You let everybody else debate who’s better. All we have to do is beat them two out of three times.’ That’s what our goal is gonna be.

"It was our goal going into South Carolina (in 2000). In 1999, they sent us to the Astrodome to play Rice. They were No. 1 in the country at the time. In 2000, they sent us to South Carolina. They were 50-6, No. 1 in the country at the time."

UL lost two after winning one over Rice then.

But it won two after losing one at South Carolina, and went to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, that year for the first and only time in program history.

"So, you know, if you’re gonna utter the word ‘Omaha,’ you’re gonna have to play against the best people in the country," Robichaux said. "That’s the way we look at it …

"Some people look at it and try to ‘pick’ easy Regionals or easy Super Regionals, or ‘somebody got lucked off here and knocked out a national seed.’ "

Robichaux doesn’t see it that way whatsoever.

"Man," he said, "you don’t ‘luck off’ and get to Omaha. No way.

"Eight teams are gonna be left standing after this weekend. Man, I don’t know if you realize how hard that is. Three-hundred-and-something people (teams) started out this journey; we’ve got 16 left. Every one of them is a champion, a Regional champion. Look at how many good teams aren’t in Supers right now.

"That’s why if you’ve never been to Omaha," Robichaux added, "you need to do yourself a favor and go — because you’ve got eight of the saltiest people left standing."

It’s why Robichaux has worked so hard to return to the mecca of college baseball.

"Because," he said, "what an honor when you walk through the gates and you’ve got eight people (teams) that never quit, man; eight people that (have) some kind of motto; eight people that (have) destiny; eight people that have never quit; eight teams that are grinding.

"Man, you talk about fun. I mean, every pitch is war. But, you’ve go to get there. And only eight people are gonna get there. So, we’ve got our work cut out for us. Believe me, we’ll have to be the best we’ve been all year."