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Baseball: Cajuns successful despite missing key pieces

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, June 2, 2013

BATON ROUGE — A back injury kept UL from playing usual centerfielder Seth Harrison in its 15-1 NCAA Regional win over Jackson State on Saturday.

With Harrison ailing and usual left-fielder Dylan Butler battling a ribs injury that’s caused him to miss two straight Regional games, usual catcher Michael Strentz started in left field, true-freshman Nick Thurman worked behind the plate and utilityman Ryan Leonards opened in centerfield.

Harrison, who did play in UL’s Regional-opening loss to Sam Houston State on Friday, started all 54 games in which he’s played this season. A .340 hitter going into the Regional, he was 0-for-3 at the plate vs. SHSU.

“We could definitely use those two guys,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said of Harrison and Butler, who have a combined 17 home runs between them with nine and eight, respectively.

Strentz, who started a few games in left field before needing Tommy John surgery, made his first start of the season in the outfield and wound up throwing out a runner at the plate from left.

Thurman made just his 10th start of the year at catcher.

The Belle Chasse High product went 1-for-4 with two runs scored, threw out a runner at second and initiated a key 2-5-3 double play in the sixth inning.

“Thurman stepped up for us,” Robichaux said of the freshman who played all three games in an early March non-conference series at Southern Mississippi in which UL won two of three, but who had not started since an April 21 game against Florida Atlantic.

BOUTTE TO START

UL will start Cody Boutte, an LSU-Eunice transfer and New Iberia Senior High product, in its elimination game today.

After that, though, the Cajun will have to turn to usual relievers the rest of the way, no matter how many more games they play the rest of the way in the four-team, double-elimination Regional.

UL could play as many as three games if it were to reach Monday’s if-necessary game.

“Some guys are just gonna have to step up for us and help us,” Robichaux said.

“He (Boutte) will come out the next game, and then the bullpen is really gonna have to help us out for us to grind through this thing.”

TWO-SEAM SEARCH

UL starter and All-Sun Belt Conference pick Austin Robichaux (9-2) uncharacteristically hit four batters during his eight innings of work against Jackson State on Saturday.

But it wasn’t at all because of perspiration on a hot and humid day. Rather, Robichaux said, it was simply a matter of “not knowing where ball was moving” early on.

Before settling in, the Notre Dame High product first had to locate his go-to two-seam fastball. He did, and now has pitched at least seven complete innings in nine of his 16 starts in 2013.

“I didn’t have control of it at the beginning of the game,” said Robichaux, who wound up striking out eight. “I just had to find where to put it and where to spot it up.”

LAGNIAPPE

UL right-fielder Dex Kjerstad’s leadoff single to open the game extended his current hitting streak to a team-high 15 straight games. Kjertsad went 3-for-6, giving him 99 hits this season and leaving him two shy of Nathan Nelson’s 2000 school-record of 101. … UL third-baseman Tyler Girouard now has 40 RBI this season, giving the Cajuns six with 40 or more. Utilityman Ryan Leonards’ RBI Saturday was his 30th, making it 10 Cajuns with at least 30. … Jackson State is now 0-9 in all-time NCAA Tournament games. UL, playing in its first Regional since 2010, is now 21-20. … UL’s 14-run win margin is its largest in NCAA tourney play, surpassing a 19-8 win over Houston in 1999.