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Baseball: Glue guys Zaunbrecher, Herrington keep UL together

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 19, 2016

When the seniors among his Ragin’ Cajuns step onto M.L. “Tigue” Field for the final time of their regular-season careers this week, standouts will be among them.

Reliable players too.

UL coach Tony Robichaux may never forget them.

But it’s the glue guys who stick perhaps most impressionably in the mind of Robichaux, whose No. 19 Cajuns still have a chance to win the 2016 Sun Belt Conference regular-season title as they open a three-game series Thursday night against UL Monroe.

UL (34-19) goes into the series two games behind South Alabama with a head-to-head advantage after winning its series with the Jaguars, who close with a three-game series at Troy.

“I think the big thing, to me, is (outfielder) Derek (Herrington) and (pitcher Nick) Zaunbrecher — the unselfishness of those two guys,” Robichaux said when asked this week about his eight-member senior class.

Zaunbrecher, a Texas native who played at Barbe High in Lake Charles, and every-day catcher Nick Thurman, a pro prospect, are the only seniors who have played throughout all of their four seasons at UL, including NCAA Tournament appearances in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Herrington, a Minden High product who played at LSU-Eunice, transferred to UL from a juco, as did fellow seniors Stefan Trosclair, a second-team All-American second baseman, regular starting centerfielder and leading hitter Kyle Clement, frequent starting outfielder Brian Mills and relief pitchers Eric Carter and Will Bacon.

All eight will be recognized prior to Friday’s middle game of the series, and while four Cajuns — Clement, Carter, Zaunbrecher and pitcher Greg Milhorn (who finished his playing career last year) will be honored with a special on-field graduation ceremony before Saturday afternoon’s game.

Beyond pomp and circumstance — and all they’ve done at the plate, in the field and on the mound — it’s special moments like one on the road last weekend that Robichaux savors most.

It was Saturday that UL was playing its final SBC regular-season weekend road series, a big one at South Alabama.

The Cajuns had just lost a rough one the night before on a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning, and they needed to make things right by rebounding to win the final two games of the series.

Which they did, thanks in part to leadership shown by a couple of the seniors.

As they boarded a team bus to head over to Stanky Field for Game 2 of the series in Mobile, Alabama, Robichaux shared Monday, there was Zaunbrecher, who has pitched all of 4.0 innings over six appearances this season, standing at the steps to greet them along with Carter, who had given up the game-winning hit in the ninth on Friday but struck out the side in the ninth to close a 6-3 win Sunday.

“Before every player got on Saturday,” Robichaux said, “Zaunbrecher fronted everybody and said, ‘Are you ready? Are you ready today? Are you ready to get on this bus?’

“It’s a guy with (four) innings. I mean, most people with (four) innings — they’re on the back of the bus, man, tearing the coaching staff down, pouting. This guy is on the front of the bus, getting ready to play, when he knows the odds are he won’t be in that ballgame.”

On a night-in, night-out basis, Herrington isn’t always sure he’ll be playing either.

He did for a stretch when Clement was out earlier this season with a broken forearm.

Sometimes, though, it’s much like last Saturday night and Sunday, when he entered briefly in right field as a defensive replacement, then was pinch-hit for before he even got an at-bat.

Nevertheless, prior to every game the Cajuns play, Herrington can be seen chasing down fly balls during batting practice as if each could be the last he will ever catch.

UL's Derek Herrington (8) celebrates with teammateBuy Photo

UL’s Derek Herrington (8) celebrates with teammate Nick Thurman (6) after hitting a two-run home run against UNO during a 2015 game. (Photo: Advertiser file photo)

“I think Derek Herrington is a very unselfish player,” Robichaux said.

“You just would think that that guy must be an everyday player (based on his pregame routine). Yet, he knows he might play against lefties, he might be a defensive replacement, he might get pinch-hit for along the way.”

But he never knows any of it for sure.

They aren’t the only unselfish ones among the class.

Bacon, a Parkview Baptist High product from Baton Rouge who also transferred in from LSU-Eunice, was 6-3 with a 3.14 ERA while working 71.2 innings over 28 appearances last season.

He is 1-0 with a 3.28 ERA this season, but has thrown only 24.2 innings in 14 appearances in 2016, including 1.0 in Tuesday night’s 17-3 non-conference win at the University of New Orleans.

“Every year your role changes,” Robichaux said. “Last year, Will’s role was bigger than it happens to be this year.”

It takes an unselfish person to accept it.

“Will’s been able to do that as a senior,” Robichaux said.

So whether it’s that, or it’s Zaunbrecher, a pre-med major, collecting bus fare, so to speak, and helping to keep the bullpen clean, or it’s Herrington shagging b.p. balls and staying ready to play at a moment’s notice, that’s the kind of stuff Robichaux loves.

“You have to have people like that,” the Cajun coach said. “I mean, you just have to, to make it work.”

   No. 19 UL (34-19, 18-9 in the Sun Belt) vs. UL MONROE (20-32, 10-17)

   WHAT: Three-game Sun Belt Conference series

   WHERE: M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field (3,755)

   WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday, 6 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday

   RADIO: KPEL 96.5 FM with Jay Walker

   TV: KADN DT3 Friday night only



   Thursday night: UL LHP Gunner Leger (6-3, 2.22 ERA) vs. RHP Keegan Curtis (2-2, 4.98)

   Friday night: UL RHP Nick Lee (6-1, 3.00 ERA) vs. RHP Brayden Bouchey (5-3, 3.43)

   Saturday: UL RHP Evan Guillory (4-5, 3.46 ERA) vs. TBA


   ABOUT THE OPPONENT: ULM dropped the last two outings of a three-game Sun Belt home series last weekend with Arkansas-Little Rock, snapping a three-game winning streak. … Leading hitter: Jacob Stockton (.287, 31 RBI, six home runs). … The Warhawks are looking to catch Arkansas State for the eighth and last seed in next week’s Sun Belt Tournament.

   ABOUT THE CAJUNS: UL is coming off Tuesday night’s 17-3 non-conference win at the University of New Orleans. … Leading hitters: Kyle Clement (.364), Alex Pinero (.317), Brian Mills (34 RBI), Brenn Conrad (34 RBI) Joe Robbins (31 RBI, nine homers) … UL leads the all-time series 82-52, including a three-game regular-season sweep in 2015.