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Baseball: Meeting expectations – UL’s Adams flourishing after slow start

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 25, 2014

He started the season with high expectations, his preseason billing as Sun Belt Conference Preseason Player of the Year hanging overhead.

UL left fielder Caleb Adams doesn’t feel he was weighed down whatsoever by trying to live up the honor.

A .390 batting average and a team-high nine home runs through 42 games for the No. 2-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns seems to be ample testament that he was not.

After Adams got off to something of a slow start at the plate in 2014, however, Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux sensed a short chat could go a long way toward ensuring nothing would get in the way of a solid senior season for the product of Texas High in Texarkana, Texas.

"I think he’s done a great job of (not being bogged down by preseason pub)," Robichaux said.

"When he was struggling, had the weight of the world on him," the Cajun coach added, "him and I had a little talk, and I told him, ‘What got you here was the good, ol’ boy from Texarkana. I mean, that’s what you came in. … And from there you took off. Stay that route. Stay the good, ol’ boy from Texarkana.’ "

He has, right down the last line of a solid country song.

Going into a March 11 non-conference game at Tulane – UL’s 16th outing of the season – Adams was hitting just .263 and had no home runs.

"I think he was more pressing than anything," Robichaux said.

But after homering in a 7-4 win over the Green Wave, Adams has been on a tear for the 37-5 Cajuns.

He hit .583 (7-for-12) with a 1.083 slugging percentage and a .643 on-base percentage in a three-game Sun Belt series at Texas-Arlington that UL took 2-1 last weekend, and he was 1-for-2 with two walks, one run scored and one RBI in a 8-0 non-conference win at McNeese State last Tuesday night.

Now, heading a three-game Sun Belt home series against Texas State that opens tonight at M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field, Adams’ .390 average ranks second in the Sun Belt behind only the .399 of teammate Jace Conrad.

His slugging percentage (.765), on-base percentage (.512) and number of triples (six) all lead the league, and his total of runs scored (42) is tied with teammate Blake Trahan for tops in the conference.

The slugging percentage ranks third among national leaders, and the on-base percentage is fifth.

"He’s having an unbelievable year," fellow Cajuns senior Matt Hicks said, "and he deserves every bit of it.

"Caleb’s unbelievable. You’re not gonna find many people that come out here and work harder than him. I mean, he’s out there all day, every day."

After hitting .339 with 16 homers (ninth-most in the nation) and 55 RBI in 2013, Adams – a transfer to UL from Texarkana College – also was named a third-team Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball.

The key to getting going in 2014, Adams suggested, was simply not worrying about all that was being said – about him, or UL’s chances this year – prior to the season.

"You’ve just got to get lost in ‘team’ and winning ballgames," he said. "That’s one thing this team does good, is being lost in each other. … That’s all we really care about, is going out and getting the ‘W.’

"Preseason stuff doesn’t matter. … We all care about the one at the end, and that’s getting to Omaha and making a run at the national championship."

UL’s College World Series aspirations are boosted, Adams believes, by the way so many Cajuns pick each other up.

"You know," he said, "if I don’t get it done or Jace (Conrad) doesn’t get it done, we know someone else is gonna get it done."

Another key, Adams suggested, is that each Cajun simply stays true to who they are as hitters.

UL led the nation in home runs last season, and it is second this season with 49 – six fewer than Tennessee Tech’s 55.

But UL’s .327 team batting average, second in the country to Delaware State’s .347, proves the Cajuns don’t just rely on the long ball.

"We stick to our approach," said Adams, who didn’t even realize he had been named Sun Belt Preseason Player of the Year until associate head coach Anthony Babineaux told him a couple of days after the news broke.

"We just come out and try to win the ballgame. Whatever it takes. Getting the job done every time. You know, home runs aren’t what we look for. We just look for getting our swing off.

"You’ll see the biggest home run guys on the team also lay down a sac bunt or a drag bunt – whatever we need to get the hitting going," Adams added. "We just try to score runs, whatever way possible."

It’s an approach that seems to work, and not just for Adams.

He isn’t the only one Robichaux has reminded to simply keep it real, especially when times may be tough.

"That’s what it I told (catcher) Mike Strentz too," the Cajun coach said. "You know, he’s struggling a little bit now – and I told him, ‘Just go back to being the guy I went to see.

"(Ex-Cajuns assistant coach) Mike Trahan said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna ride today and go see a catcher at Comeaux (High).’ I rode (with him), and … (Strentz) hit three home runs that day.

"So, like I told (Adams), ‘Don’t let stuff pile up. Just go back to being that guy,’ " Robichaux added. "And I think when Caleb relaxed a little bit and just went back to being ‘that guy,’ he got going again."

That guy.

You know – the good, ol’ one, from Texarkana.

No. 2 UL (37-5, 16-2) at TEXAS-ARLINGTON (23-18, 11-7)

WHAT: Three-game Sun Belt Conference weekend series

WHERE: M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field

WHEN: 6 tonight, 6 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday

RADIO: KPEL 96.5 FM with Jay Walker

TV: KLAF on Saturday only with Dan McDonald (play-by-play) and Kevin Cantrelle (analysis)


Tonight: UL junior RHP Austin Robichaux (5-2, 3.14 ERA) vs. junior RHP Austin Williams (6-1, 2.58 ERA)

Saturday night: UL junior RHP Carson Baranik (8-0, 2.78 ERA) vs. junior RHP Taylor Black (3-4, 3.22 ERA)

Sunday: UL senor LHP Cody Boutte (5-0, 2.91 ERA) vs. sophomore RHP Lucas Humpal (3-3, 3.59 ERA)

ABOUT THE CAJUNS: UL bounced back from last Sunday’s 5-4 Sun Belt loss at Texas-Arlington with an 8-0 non-conference home win over McNeese State on Tuesday night. … The Ragin’ Cajuns, winners of 10 straight weekend series this year, have not lost back-to-back games all season. … UL leads the all-time series 8-5, including 5-1 at home.

ABOUT THE OPPONENT: After sweeping last weekend’s SBC home series with Georgia State, Texas State split two non-conference games with Baylor – losing 4-3 Tuesday in Waco, then winning 2-0 Wednesday in San Marcos. … Bobcats coach Ty Harrington notched his 500th NCAA Division I career victory Wednesday. … Texas State won the last meeting 9-5 on Feb. 20, 2012, in San Marcos.