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Baseball: Wild ride – How Robichaux’s Cajuns reversed their season – Senior Day, Graduation, Jerseys

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 16, 2018

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Freshman shortstop Hayden Cantrelle, right, congratulates Zach LaFleur, left, after the senior outfielder scored a run in UL’s win over UNO earlier this season. (Photo: James Mays/Special to the Advertiser)

They opened the first half of the 2018 regular season 12-16.

The question then for some was not how high of a seed they could take into the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, but whether they would even be able to qualify for it.

Now?

The 30-23 Ragin’ Cajuns head into their final series of the season, against UL Monroe, with a chance to win the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division and take the No. 2 seed into the league tourney they host next week on M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park.

UL is 18-7 so far in the second half, including Tuesday night’s 7-6 win over Tulane.

More: DH Lott’s approach pays big in UL’s 7-6 win over Tulane

“Halfway they could have packed it in,” UL coach Tony Robichaux said.

“They’ve been through so much, so many injuries, so many key players down, then having to shuffle this and shuffle that, guys playing injured, a catcher that’s catching every inning.

“They’ve been under a lot of duress, and I’m proud of them,” Robichaux added. “They could have quit.”

But they did not.

The Cajuns instead got it together in the second half, and going into a three-game series with ULM that opens Thursday night at The Tigue UL – 15-12 in SBC play so far – holds a half-game lead over Little Rock in the Sun Belt West.

Related: Call it clean-up time for Robichaux’s UL baseball team

It’s a ULM club UL has beaten 22 times in a row.

Little Rock, 14-12 in SBC play, closes at home against South Alabama.

UL also sits ahead of Texas State, which at 13-14 in SBC action heading into its final series at Texas-Arlington still has a chance to win the Sun Belt West too.

But protect the lead, and the Cajuns will be the No. 2 seed in the league tourney behind 2018 Sun Belt East-winner and 2016 College World Series-winner Coastal Carolina.

“They could have packed it in a long time ago,” said Robichaux, whose Cajuns recently took 2-of-3 from then-No. 15 Coastal Carolina.

Related: Lots of little things lift UL over No. 15 Coastal Carolina

More: Fontenot’s blast, hot bats help UL beat Coastal Carolina

Instead?

“They still have a lot in front of them," Robichaux said. "They still have a chance to get to a Regional. Will it be easy? Never is.”

Yet it’s possible, despite all UL has had to overcome this year.

Would-be No. 1 pitcher Gunner Leger took a redshirt following offseason arm and leg surgeries.

Starting catcher Handsome Monica hurting a knee in the Cajuns’ season-opener, then before returning sustained an elbow injury that required recently performed partial Tommy John surgery, leaving backup Kole McKinnon to work every inning since then.

More: Robichaux saus Cajuns catcher McKinnon is ‘such a warrior’

Highly regarded pro prospect Hogan Harris, who started the season as UL’s No. 3 pitcher and now is its No. 2, missed about a month-and-a-half early in the season with oblique and rib injuries.

There were other injuries too.

But that’s not all.

Two true freshmen, Hayden Cantrelle at shortstop and Jonathan Windham at third, are starting in the infield.

And only four Cajuns – Cantrelle, utilityman/designated hitter Kennon Fontenot and starting outfielders Gavin Bourgeois and Daniel Lahare – started the week hitting above .235.

Pitcher Nick Lee has gone from starter to closer and now back to starter.

Related: The payoff is now for UL outfielders Lahare, Bourgeois

More: Role reversal for UL’s Lee

It really has been a wild ride.

“(Our) six seniors have done an excellent job of not letting guys just wither away when they were told Gunner was gonna redshirt, then they were told Handsome’s gonna redshirt, then Kole’s gotta catch every game,” Robichaux said with reference to seniors Fontenot, No. 1 starting pitcher Colten Schmidt, relief pitcher Dylan Moore, starting outfielder Zach LaFleur, closer Logan Stoelke and first baseman Tyler Stover.

“They’ve got themselves in a good position. They’ve got some things ahead of them they’ve got total control over. They don’t have to sit around and hope, hope something else happens around the league.”

It was, granted, a rough beginning.

Early on, Robichaux said the Cajuns were more focused on “results” than “the process” like they should have been.

UL, meanwhile, has had one of the country’s tougher non-conference schedules, playing 11 games against opponents that were nationally ranked at the time.

At the start of the week, in fact, it was third-toughest nationally.

More: Cajuns brace for 2018 schedule that will ‘rough them up’

Eight of those games, including four losses, came during the season’s first half.

Four straight games against nationally ranked opponents came during a particularly taxing early March stretch in which UL beat Vanderbilt and LSU (for the first of two times) while losing to Mississippi State and Kentucky.

In time, though, Robichaux said that “instead of trying to win” the Cajuns “started to compete.”

It’s the competing that led to the winning.

“I think they’ve done just a great job in the second half of understanding what they have to do to be successful,” Robichaux said.

Moreover, and perhaps just as importantly, he said “they stayed together internally.”

The result is a team that, heading into the ULM series, sits a lot prettier than it could have considering all the hurdle it’s had to overcome.

It’s even one that thinks it has a shot at NCAA Tournament play.

“I’m not proud of where we are in the sense of ‘we need to be better than where we are,’ ” Robichaux said.

“But having started the first half with all the injuries and everything,” he added, “I’m glad they didn’t just pack it in and blame everything on injuries.”

More: Cajuns ace Leger explains decision to sit out the season

UL vs. UL MONROE

WHAT: Sun Belt Conference college baseball series

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

WHERE: M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park

RECORDS: UL 30-23, 15-12 in the Sun Belt; ULM 23-28, 10-17

TV: None

STREAMING: RaginCajuns.com

RADIO: KPEL 96.5 FM with Jay Walker and Brad Topham

PROBABLE UL PITCHERS: Senior LHP Colten Schmidt (7-0, 1.81 ERA) Thursday night, junior LHP Hogan Harris (4-1, 2.33) Friday night, junior RHP Nick Lee (2-6, 4.68) Saturday

UL LEADERS: OF Daniel Lahare (.326, 3 triples, 4 HR, 46 runs scored), OF Gavin Bourgeois (.308, 14 doubles, 18 steals), 1B/LF/3B/DH Kennon Fontenot (.293, 4 HR), SS Hayden Cantrelle (.273), 2B Hunter Kasuls (.240, 40 RBI)


More on regular season final series at home vs. ULM

Jeff Schneider, Associate Director of Athletics Communications

THE WEEKEND SERIES
Dates: Thursday-Saturday, May 17-19, 2018
Location: Lafayette, La.
Site: M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field at Russo Park (4,850)
Times: 6:00 p.m. (Thu) | 6:00 p.m. (Fri) | 3:00 p.m. (Sat)
Opponent: ULM (23-28, 10-17 SBC)
Radio: News Talk 96.5 KPEL-FM
Television: None
Live Stats/Video: www.RaginCajuns.com
 
STARTING PITCHERS
Friday: LHP Colten Schmidt (LA) vs. LHP Trey Jeans (ULM)
Saturday: LHP Hogan Harris (LA) vs. RHP Chase Beal (ULM)
Sunday: RHP Nick Lee (LA) vs. RHP Justin Olaughlin (ULM)
 
LAFAYETTE, La. – The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns baseball team is set to close out the 2018 regular season with a three-game conference series against ULM at M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field at Russo Park starting Thursday at 6 p.m.
 
Game two of the series between the Ragin’ Cajuns and Warhawks is slated for Friday at 6 p.m., while first pitch of the series finale will be at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
 
The Cajuns will honor the 2018 senior class with Senior Day on Friday including a pregame ceremony. On Saturday, a special on-field graduation ceremony will take place prior to the final game of the series.
 
Louisiana enters the series a half game in front of Little Rock and two games in front of Texas State for the Sun Belt Conference West Division lead.
 
Jersey Auctions
 
For those fans who were unable to take part in the live jersey auctions during the Coastal Carolina series, the Ragin’ Cajuns baseball team will be auctioning off the cream colored jerseys from the 2014 season this week at Russo Park. Silent auctions will be held during the games on Thursday and Saturday, while the featured jerseys will be available via a live auction after the game on Friday.
 
Where to Listen/Watch
 
Fans can listen to all three games on News Talk 96.5 KPEL-FM with Jay Walker and Brad Topham on the call Thursday and Friday, while Scott Prather will join Topham on Saturday.
 
The games will also be streamed for free on the Ragin’ Cajuns Digital Network with Dan McDonald calling the action. Both the Friday and Saturday broadcasts will start early to allow fans unable to attend the contests the ability to watch the Senior Day and Graduation ceremonies. Live stats are available on RaginCajuns.com.
 
The Series
 
Louisiana holds an 88-52 lead in the all-time series with ULM. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won 22 straight meetings against the Warhawks sweeping the series in Monroe last year. The Cajuns have won the last nine meetings at Russo Park.
 
The Ragin’ Cajuns are 48-18 against ULM under head coach Tony Robichaux including an 18-10 mark at home.
 
Scouting Louisiana
 
Louisiana (30-23, 15-12 SBC) picked up a 7-6 victory over Tulane in the midweek. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 15-10 at home this season including a 10-4 mark during the second half of the season.
 
Junior Daniel Lahare is riding a team-best 14-game hit streak going 26-for-61 (.426) at the plate with seven doubles, three triples, two home runs, six RBI and 21 runs scored during the streak.
 
Sophomore Todd Lott has notched a home run in three of his last five plate appearances with a pair of home runs in the win over the Green Wave.
 
Scouting ULM
 
ULM (23-28, 10-17 SBC) comes into the series having defeated McNeese 10-7 in a midweek game in Lake Charles, La. The Warhawks were swept at home over the weekend by Troy. ULM is 7-18 on the road this season including a 2-10 mark in league action.
 
The Warhawks are hitting .249 as a team with 73 doubles, eight triples and 36 home runs while averaging 5.8 runs per game. Newcomer Johnny DeLaCruz paces the offense with a .333 average, 17 doubles, two home runs and 24 RBI. Chad Bell has a team-best seven home runs and 37 RBI.
 
On the mound, ULM is ranked 12th in the Sun Belt with a 6.13 ERA. The Warhawks are averaging 4.4 free passes per game while opponents are hitting .283 against them.
 
Up Next
 
Louisiana will host the 2018 Sun Belt Conference Tournament from May 22-27 at Russo Park. The tournament bracket will be announced this weekend. Tickets are available for the tournament on RaginCajuns.com.
 
For the latest updates on Ragin’ Cajuns baseball, follow Ragin’ Cajuns baseball on Facebook (RaginCajunsBaseball), Twitter (@RaginCajunsBSB) and Instagram (@RaginCajunsBSB) or check RaginCajuns.com.