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Baseball: Point proven – Tyler Girouard-Former walk-on Girouard leads Cajuns into crucial Sun Belt

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 10, 2013

He arrived at UL from Teurlings Catholic as a walk-on in 2011, certain of one thing.

“I wanted to come here,” Tyler Girouard said.

So he did.

Girouard checked in with little more than bat in hand and a point to prove, and he’s used the former to facilitate the latter quite convincingly throughout a 2013 season in which the Ragin’ Cajuns have gone 34-15.

“(Walking on) kind of fueled me,” he said, “and just made me work harder to earn my spot.”

Heading into a Sun Belt Conference weekend series against SBC-leading South Alabama that begins tonight at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field, Girouard – now a red-shirt sophomore – is hitting .369, second among all Cajun hitters behind only Dex Kjerstad’s .377.

He has a team-high .654 slugging percentage that ranks 18th in the nation.

UL’s starting third baseman also has seven home runs, fourth-most on a club that leads the country in both total homers (57) and homers per game (1.16).

Point made, indeed – much to the delight of Cajun coaches who had a hunch.

“Tyler doesn’t surprise me,” UL head coach Tony Robichaux said. “He’s a very hard worker. He came to us as a walk-on, and put in the time that it took to hit.”

“Tyler is a guy that’s put his time in, that hasn’t worried about if he’s on scholarship (or) if he’s not on scholarship. That doesn’t matter to him,” associate head coach Anthony Babineaux added. “He’s just come in and done his job, and because of that the game has paid him back.”

Girouard went to UL with a solid foundation at the plate, hitting .473 with 15 doubles, five triples, seven homers and 48 RBIs during a senior season which he earned Class 4A Player of the Year while helping lead the Rebels to Louisiana’s 2010 Class 4A state championship.

In Teurlings’ 15-7 state-title game win over Belle Chasse, he went 4-for-5 with two home runs, two doubles and four RBIs.

As a junior, he had a .504 average with 10 homers.

But in Girouard’s mind, those good times were eons ago.

“I’ve come a long way from that,” he said.

There’s a big difference between hitting high school pitchers and those throwing for NCAA Division I teams, and Girouard readily acknowledges that.

He’s also figured out what it takes to bridge the gap.

“He’s becoming more of a professional hitter,” Robichaux said. “I think it takes time to craft your skill as a hitter. … It doesn’t just happen overnight.

“Shugg (Girouard’s nickname) has put in so much time in his craft, in hitting, and now he’s just benefitting.”

Beyond steady play in the field – he’s made just three errors this season – Girouard used his bat to win the starting job over strong-fielding LSU-Eunice transfer Sam Carriere.

He was UL’s top hitter for much of the season, but – slowed by a knee injury that cost him a few games and now has him playing with a brace – was passed for the No. 1 spot after right-fielder Kjerstad went 7-for-14 in the Cajun’s three-game Sun Belt sweep of Arkansas State last weekend.

More notable than first or even second, though, is the fact he’s raised his average to .369 from .298 during a freshman season in which he started 31 of UL’s 53 games.

Girouard’s approach to hitting, Robichaux knows, has been key to that.

“He stays inside the baseball, and when hitters stay inside the ball they’re gonna be good hitters, because they’re gonna use the whole field,” the Cajun coach said. “Most hitters that get in trouble are dead-pull hitters. … But Tyler stays inside the ball with the best of them, and because of that he matches up with lefties and righties.

“The one thing he’s doing now is … he’s starting to finish his swing, and now the ball is jumping for him. He’s hitting the ball with a lot more power and authority than he first did his freshman year.

“His freshman year, he’d just wear you out back up the middle, back up the middle, back up the middle. Now he’s put some strength with being inside the baseball,” Robichaux added. “And when guys stay inside the ball, they’re averages are going to go up. You show me a guy that spins, and I’ll show you a .220, .230, .240 hitter that might have some home runs. But … he’s not like that. He lives inside the baseball.”

Babineaux said Girouard “was always a good hitter throughout high school,” one who “could always really hit, was always inside of the baseball.”

“And that’s the key to hitting for a high average,” Babineaux said. “It’s not just power, or ‘can hit the ball out of the park,’ but being able to stay inside of the baseball, so that you can hit multiple pitches, not just a fastball, but a curve ball and a change-up.

“He had a good idea of hitting,” the Cajun assistant coach added, “and he carried that with him his first couple of years here.”

Much of the difference between this season and Girouard’s last two, including his red-shirt freshman year, is attributed to work in the weightroom with the Cajun strength-and-conditioning assistant coach Jake Rayburn.

“His body is stronger, his core is leaner and stronger, so he’s starting to put some power in with the ability to hit,” Babineaux said. “And that’s why he has the home runs he has, the slugging percentage he has, the RBIs he has (34). That’s really what’s helped him this year. It has been really nice to see that transformation.”

The punch is welcome, especially for someone not tagged as a power hitter.

Hitting for average, especially in the minds of Cajun coaches, is even more important.

But well beyond the long-ball total, and even more than percentages, what matters most to Girouard is Cajun success.

He hopes his club can ride a regular season that ends after this weekend’s last home series against South Alabama and final series next weekend at UL Monroe far beyond the Sun Belt Conference Tournament that the Cajuns host May 22-26.

“My thing is ‘If we’re winning, it’s good,’ ” Girouard said. “It’s always fun when you’re winning.

“Even if I’m struggling … it’s not really important to me. I just want to come in and put some wins on the board and make it to a Regional.”

Watching the Cajuns win, after all, has always been foremost for the lifelong UL fan.

And that’s why it was so easy to decide to walk on, even when there were scholarship opportunities at the likes of McNeese State, Nicholls State and LSU-Eunice.

“I’ve grown up wanting to be a Ragin’ Cajun,” Girouard said. “A lot of people get lost in LSU kind-of-stuff, but I’ve always wanted to be a Cajun.”

As satisfying as it is to be one, though, succeeding as a Cajun is even more satisfying.

Especially for one who walked on.

“It’s definitely a good feeling,” Girouard said.