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Baseball: Love affair – Fans, Cajuns bond at The Tigue

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, June 1, 2016



The scene at M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field as UL takes on Mississippi State on May 1, 2014, in the NCAA Lafayette Regional.(Photo: Advertiser file photo)


Brenn Conrad was in the grandstand, somewhere behind home plate. Stefan Trosclair watched from a seating section, too. And Kyle Clement was on the team, but mostly watching from the dugout as a reserve-role player at the time.

It was the 2014 postseason, and M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field was alive — first with UL hosting the NCAA Lafayette Regional and a field that also included Jackson State, San Diego State and Mississippi State, and then with the Ragin’ Cajuns hosting Ole Miss in the NCAA Lafayette Super Regional.

Trosclair, having just finished up his junior college career at LSU-Eunice, may never forget what it was like.

“I get chills thinking about it right now,” UL’s senior season baseman said this week. “It was awesome, and I can’t imagine what it’s going to be liked this weekend.”

The 2016 NCAA Lafayette Regional gets under way first with Arizona playing Sam Houston State on Friday afternoon and then with UL playing Princeton on Friday night.

Play in the double-elimination Regional continues Saturday, Sunday and, if necessary, Monday night.

“It’s going to be packed,” Trosclair said. “It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The Tigue was packed for the Regional in 2014, too.

How tight?

The Tigue has a listed capacity of 3,755.

The box scores show UL officially drew 3,581 for its opening 1-0 loss to Jackson State; 3,591 for a 9-2 loser’s-bracket win over San Diego State; 3,601 for an ensuing 11-1 win over Jackson State; 3,729 for 14-8 win over Mississippi State; and 3,920 for a 5-3 Regional-winning victory over Mississippi State.

But current Cajuns who were there then know the numbers were higher, one way or another.

“The experience was awesome,” said Clement, who had three at-bats in the 2014 Regional and now is UL’s starting senior centerfielder with a team-high .355 batting average. “These games now, we have 4,000-plus people.

“But I’m telling ya: There were probably 4,000 more people in the parking lot. The atmosphere was crazy, and it was really something that everybody should get to experience on this team.”

Now they will.

The No. 14 Cajuns went to the Baton Regional in 2013 and won the Houston Regional in 2015, but not everyone on the current roster of UL’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament champs was with the club when it hosted in 2014.

Conrad — who was between stints with the team at the time, having left briefly for a junior college — didn’t get to experience a Regional first-hand at The Tigue.

Now he will.

But his brother, Jace Conrad, was UL’s starting second baseman in 2014, and Brenn was able to experience from a spectator’s seat just what hosting NCAA Tournament games meant to Lafayette.

(UL has hosted a Regional only one other time, in 2000, the one and only time it went to the College World Series.)

Brenn Conrad seems to think Clement’s estimate was a tad low.

“In 2014 … the town just went nuts,” said Conrad, now UL’s regular designated hitter.

“It’s all about the fans, man — really and truly. … There was — what? — 4,000 people inside the stadium, and probably another 6,000 outside the stadium. It’s incredible what this town can do, whenever it all comes together.”

It’s a city (estimated population in the 125,000 range, give or take) and a school (enrollment around 17,500 last year) with a fan base (you pick the number) that even can carry its club to a Regional win, Conrad suggests.

“They’re the ones who pretty much got them the win,” he said, “because … Mississippi State had one guy, a lefty, who was throwing like 96 (miles an hour), and they (the fans) were the ones who made him walk like four straight, getting in his head and stuff like that.

“The atmosphere was just incredible,” Conrad added, “and hopefully it will be again like that again this year.”

From the songs they sing to the jabs they shout, and from the food they consume to the beverages with which they wash it all down, everything really does seem to be done with an elevated level of passion at The Tigue.

Conrad is convinced it was Cajun backers who were the ultimate difference-makers in 2014 — trumping even their prolific home-run hitters and strong throwing arms.

He should know.

The Lafayette High product was one of those fans that year.

“It’s a totally different game whenever you’re outside the dugout (as opposed to) in,” Conrad said.

“I knew they were going to win the Regional, even after they lost to Jackson State. I knew Mississippi State was good, (but) once I saw the fans were getting in their heads it was over with.”

That was the high.

The 2014 Super Regional was UL’s low, especially after the Cajuns had won Game 1 in the best-two-of-three series.

“After they lost to Ole Miss,” Conrad said, “I think I cried even more than the team did — in the stands. It was pretty crazy.”

What may be even more wacky — in a good way for coach Tony Robichaux’s team — is just how much UL’s fans really do mean to the 42-19 Cajuns.

UL averaged an announced attendance count of 4,257 during the 2016 regular season, which is more than double the average crowd of 2,064 it played in front of while on the road this year.

But with the calendar having turned to June, and with so much more at stake this weekend, Clement, for one, expects things to be much more raucous at The Tigue this weekend than they have been in February, March, April and May.

“We always have a great atmosphere here,” he said, “but you can double the intensity by threefold whenever we’re hosting a Regional or a Super Regional. So it’s a really fun experience.”

That might confuse even those in a Princeton math class.

But you get the point.

“It’s a great advantage,” Trosclair said of playing at The Tigue.

“Our fans brings a lot of energy, a lot of adrenaline,” he added. “It will help us play, and give us a lot of motivation (to win) for them, not just for us.”

Fans are into is as UL plays Jackson State on May 30,

Fans are into is as UL plays Jackson State on May 30, 2014, during the NCAA Lafayette Regional at The Tigue. (Photo: Advertiser file photo)


   Thursday practice times for the NCAA Lafayette Regional were announced Wednesday.

   All practices at UL’s M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field will last up to 75 minutes and are open to the public. There is no admission charge.

   The times Thursday for each team in the Regional: 10-11:15 a.m., UL; 11:30 a.m. until 12:45 p.m., Arizona practice; 1-2:15 p.m., Sam Houston State; 2:30-3:45 p.m., Princeton.

   — Tim Buckley