home sitesearch sitemap contact fan about
  Submit/Update Profile  

Search the Network:

Baseball: Ragin’ Cajuns will to win

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, June 7, 2014

They all it seem to have it, and it’s gotten 2014’s version of the UL baseball team where it is today.

Sun Belt Conference champions. Sun Belt Tournament champs. Lafayette Regional champs. Ranked No. 1 in the country, seeded sixth in the ongoing NCAA Tournament.

It also is what they hope will get them where they want to be later this month: In Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series. Punching the ticket requires winning two-of-three from Ole Miss in an ESPN2-televised Super Regional that gets under way tonight at UL’s M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field.

Read more: Bazar remains an option for UL during Super Regional

Don’t have tickets to the Super Regional? Join the Fan Zone viewing party outside The Tigue

‘It’ is the will to win, and for Ragin’ Cajun players it’s been instilled at varying points in their young lives – helping all to be prepared for the pressure they’re facing now.

For one, third baseman Ryan Leonards, it came at an Acadiana-area high school accustomed to taking titles. For one, pitcher Cody Boutte, it was driven home at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II College World Series – and it came in handy at the NCAA Regional last weekend. And for another, second baseman Jace Conrad, it goes all the way back to pre-teen Little League days.

Conrad – Sun Belt Player of the Year, Louisville Slugger All-American – hopes what he learned en route to Williamsport, Pa., can carry him and the 57-8 Cajuns all the way to Omaha.

"For sure, at that time, all I wanted to do was win," Conrad said.

"That’s still the only thing that crosses my mind, each and every day – at anything I do, whether it’s at home or whether it’s over here (at The Tigue)," the Lafayette High product added. "I like to win, I like to compete – and that goes for everybody."

Read more: Former Ragin’ Cajun Charlie Babineaux played for both UL and Ole Miss

It certainly goes for New Iberia Senior High-product Boutte, who leaned on what he learned at his junior college – LSU-Eunice – when the Cajuns needed some encouragement at last weekend’s Regional.

UL was upset 1-0 by Jackson State in its Regional opener, but bounced back with four straight victories, including the last two over Mississippi State.

Boutte, who got the win in the Cajuns’ first game against the Bulldogs, knew the feeling from his 2012 sophomore season at the juco.

LSU Eunice lost its CWS opener, and Boutte was called on to start an ensuing loser’s bracket game in the double-elimination tourney. The Bengals went on to claim a national championship.

"We dropped the first one," he said, "and I came out the second game, and we won, and we won the next one, won the next one, had a day off, won the one after that, then I was back up for the championship game."

LSU Eunice won that one too.

"So I kind of explained to the guys (during the Regional) that this could be done," said Boutte, UL’s No. 3 starter behind Austin Robichaux and Carson Baranik. "We just made it a little bit harder on ourselves than usual."

At Notre Dame High in Crowley, Leonards won both football and baseball state championships.

Neither came easy.

But his experiences then sure are coming in handy these days.

"The pressure is a little different in high school than now," said Leonards, who was Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. "But, at the time, that was the most pressure I ever felt.

"Especially for football, we went to the (New Orleans) Superdome and I think there was like 15,000 people there. That’s a huge crowd for me. I had never played in front of that before.

"I think it prepared me a lot. Coming from Notre Dame, we were expected to win every time," Leonards added. "It’s a lot of pressure on you, but you learn a work ethic, which is what we have over here. You’ve got to put in the time to get where you want to go."

Conrad started punching the clock with a team of 11- and 12-year-old All-Stars who made it all the way from the Louisiana bayou to hallowed ground in Pennsylvania.

It was during those 2005 glory days that the kid-turned-first team All-American figured out how to best handle everything happening around him, from TV cameras in his face to fans on a hill.

"The biggest part that has helped me from then to now is dealing with crowds," said Conrad, whose Little League team made it to the American title game against Hawaii before bowing out in Williamsport.

"For a lot of people, it’s human instinct, it’s natural, to get nervous in front of thousands of people. But I think it just kind of prepared me, taught me, how to take breaths and just calm down in tight situations."

It also helped to make him the player he is today.

Productive at the plate, and with his glove. A clubhouse leader. Someone whose energy rubs off.

"I felt pressure (then)," said Conrad, who is hitting .377 with a team-high 65 RBIs for the Cajuns. "But, at the same, it’s still a game.

"I don’t really feel pressure (now). I just get angry, and I’m just ready to compete. I don’t get too nervous. I just get anxious – I want to get the job done, I want to do it right. And I think that’s how everyone feels.

"I think that’s why we’re so successful," he added. "That’s why we’re gonna continue to be successful. It’s just the will to win."