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Baseball: Foote – Never-say-die Cajuns easy to admire

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, May 25, 2015



UL head baseball coach Tony Robichaux speaks to members of the media after the team learned it will play No. 2 Rice at 2:30 p.m. Friday at Houston’s Cougar Field.(Photo: Paul Kieu/The Advertiser)


Trying to nail down the coolest story line to UL’s impressive Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship and subsequent NCAA Houston Regional berth might be a bigger feat than what coach Tony Robichaux’s Ragin’ Cajuns were able to achieve this season.

Whichever one you end up latching to, you can bet Robichaux and longtime assistant coach Anthony Babineaux have filed it away in the back of their minds for future use.

Indeed, the Cajuns’ road to winning the Sun Belt Conference Tournament crown was filled with so many twists and turns, as well as a smorgasbord of almost too-good-to-be-true redemption stories, that all of them will certainly be retold to inspire players for decades to come.

"It was an incredible weekend," Babineaux said. "We’re definitely going to use all the lessons learned by this team for other teams in the future. It was amazing what these guys were able to do in so many pressure situations."

Let’s begin with the rough start and the triumphant ending.

It’s the kind of thing that when it happens in a movie that cynical viewers just cringe and say, "Yeah right, sure the final ball went to him. Only in the movies."

And with the 2015 Ragin’ Cajuns on this crazy weekend in Troy, Ala.

At the time, it appeared like a pretty routine win. As the ball came off the bat, the No. 3-seeded Cajuns were seemingly about to cap off a 7-4 win over Texas State to move into the tournament winners bracket.

Only Kyle Clement didn’t catch the ball to allow two to score. Moments later, Stefan Trosclair booted a ground ball to keep the Bobcats alive. Texas State would get another big hit and the Cajuns had suffered one of the most gut-wrenching defeats in recent memory and place the Cajuns on the long, long losers bracket road.

So what happens in the 12th inning four days later? Clement is intentionally walked to get to Trosclair who hits a grand slam to give the Cajuns the lead against No. 1 seeded and regular season champion South Alabama in the top of the 12th.

And then guess what happens in the bottom of the 12th? The final fly ball of the game to begin the dogpile was hit to none other than Clement.

"When that fly ball went into the air, I guarantee not one of his teammates or coaches was holding their breath," Babineaux said. "We all knew he (Clement) was going to catch it."

And Clement told Babineaux right after the game that he knew that fly ball was coming his way.

It wouldn’t have only taken an optimistic Cajun fan to predict such a finish after Wednesday’s loss to Texas State, but one with a movie-script flair for the dramatic.

Babineaux also gave assistant coach Jeremy Talbot credit for effectively handling that situation by mixing humor into the situation during the hitters’ pregame talk on Thursday, saying that their teammates would go crazy when Clement caught his first fly ball or Trosclair fielded his first grounder.

"I think he just put those guys at ease and allowed it to put it behind them," Babineaux said. "They needed that, because as much as we talked about it being a team loss after the game, you could just see it in their faces how devastating it was to those guys."

How they responded over the next five games was more than impressive. Trosclair went 9-for-18 with seven runs, a double, two homers, 11 RBIs and three stolen bases. Clement was 10-for-21 with seven runs, four doubles, three RBIs and a steal.

Then how about Greg Milhorn?

I’m sure he arrived in Lafayette two years ago with high hopes of making a huge splash. Those hopes likely got even higher with a win at LSU early in his first year with the Cajuns.

But he couldn’t shake the injury bug, limiting him to 36.2 innings and a 7.12 ERA last season. Still, he got a start in the Sun Belt Tournament finals, only to be pulled after giving up four hits and three runs in 1.1 innings.

Then Milhorn spent much of his senior season on the DL as well, only getting in 39 innings, before being called upon to bail out UL’s pitching in two huge spot this weekend.

When freshman Wyatt Marks couldn’t get out of the first inning in the first elimination game, it was Milhorn to the rescue with 4.2 innings to set the Cajuns’ ship straight again. Then when the Sun Belt finals got out of hand in length, Milhorn was able to finish it out and end the tournament on the bottom of the dogpile.

"It shows you the character of that guy to go through all of that rehab and then pitch so well in two big spots with everything on the line," Babineaux said.

That story also included Marks. After his forgettable 25 pitches on Thursday, there was the true freshman with the ball in a third elimination game and delivering seven shutout innings to keep UL’s hopes alive.

If you don’t want to focus on any one individual story line, how about the team as a whole?

After last year’s amazing journey that brought UL to No. 1 in the nation, so many expected so little out of this year’s club – featuring three true freshman weekend starters – and the season provided reasons to believe that little would be achieved at regular intervals.

Only this group wouldn’t yield to those limited expectations.

Losing two at Appalachian State didn’t do them in, falling twice to South Alabama at home late didn’t produce a white flag and they even survived a gift win to Texas State on day one of SBC tourney play that would have sunk many ships.

To add insult to injury, not even a quick 5-1 deficit early the next day sidetracked this team.

"We had a lot of ups and downs this year," Babineaux said. "But the senior leaders on this team just kept pushing. They wouldn’t give up."

And along the way provided numerous scripts for valuable motivational speeches about how far not giving up can take you for many years to come.