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Spotlight on Former Athlete: Kevin Cantrelle – Baseball 1995-98

Kevin Cantrelle
Ragin’ Cajun outfielder: 1994 (redshirt), 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998
Career Highlights:
226-of-714; .317 batting average
137 runs
41 doubles
22 HBP
Academic All-American, 1998
All-Sun Belt Conference, 1997, 1998
All-Louisiana, 1997, 1998
Cantrelle helped Cajuns turn the corner
By Bruce Brown
Athletic Network
It’s good to have role models. Even better when you grow into your own person and can serve in that capacity for others.
When Kevin Cantrelle arrived at then-USL in 1994 to play baseball, his older brother Lee was already in coach Mike Boulanger’s program.
Growing up, Kevin tried to emulate Lee’s athletic prowess as a multi-sport standout in New Orleans. But he also strove to match the academic achievements of middle brother Roy, who became a dentist.
With two older brothers like that, Cantrelle seemed destined to be focused on success.
So it wasn’t a big surprise when he became a key element in a Ragin’ Cajun program that has since achieved national recognition.
After redshirting under Boulanger, Cantrelle played outfield for the Cajuns of coach Tony Robichaux from 1995-98.
He batted .317 for his career, scored 137 runs and ripped 41 doubles, was All-Sun Belt Conference and All-Louisiana in 1997 and ’98 and was an Academic All-America selection as a senior.
“I was not largely recruited,” Cantrelle said. “I was a late bloomer, a one-year starter. I didn’t decide until June or July. I was under the radar. Lee was here already, and they had talked about putting me in a junior college.
“Then I was in an American Legion tournament in Abbeville, and I went off – hit home runs, balls off the wall. They had no scholarships to offer, but I already had an academic scholarship to USL. So I came here.
“I was a product of how we were raised. Roy bridged the gap between Lee and myself, and I constantly tried to keep up with him, tried to match him. School was important in our family.
“It’s difficult when you’re on road trips and miss class. The bus will be dark, except for one light. You’ve got class in 5 hours. It takes planning and a lot of discipline to stay on top of it. And I was a liberal arts major (communications). I can’t imagine how engineering majors do it.”
Breakthrough campaign
The Cajuns struggled with sub-.500 records the first two years under Robichaux, but the 1997 squad broke through in a big way and the program hasn’t looked back in the 20 years since.
Those Cajuns finished 43-18, won the Sun Belt Conference championship and earned a spot in the NCAA Mideast Regional in Starkville, Miss. They lost to Washington 5-4 and Ga. Tech 8-0, but had set the template for future postseason action.
By 2000, the Cajuns shook the world by reaching the College World Series, and it was the 1997 team that lit that fire.
“We had a unique group of guys who played with a chip on our shoulder and felt we had a lot to prove,” Cantrelle said. “We just think we’re better than people think, as good as anybody in the country.
“Before the season, we were picked to finish sixth in the Sun Belt. The year before, we were picked sixth and finished third, then we were picked sixth again. We took it very personal. Tony picked us first. He believed in us.
“There was a toughness and attitude about that team, and we had talent coming in. You have to establish a culture. Once you do, that attitude is infectious.”
Although talented, many of those players were new to the program. Cantrelle stepped in to lead by word and deed as a relative veteran.
“There was a need for leadership,” he said. “We had a lot of guys from junior college, as new as freshmen to the program. I was as familiar as anyone with the program, and tried to lead with my actions.
“I was probably more the vocal guy. I played with passion and emotion. You do cultivate leadership, and that’s something that’s incredibly important in any organization. Being a peer leader is most difficult.”
Once the fire was lit, the Cajuns had talent to cash in on that zeal.
First baseman Oswaldo Aguirre hit .356 with 78 hits and 57 RBI. Justin Hemme hit 12 home runs and 16 doubles. Steven Feehan, a future star on the CWS team, stole 10 bases. Zach Wilson scored 56 runs.
Trey Poland (137 innings pitched, 140 K’s) and Cody Robbins each won 12 games.
In one memorable May 3rd game at La. Tech, the Cajuns piled up 26 hits and 44 total bases in a 9-4 win.
They were busy piling up memories.
Facing the best
Along the way, Cantrelle and friends pulled off a thrilling 10-8 victory at eventual national champion LSU.
“We had so much respect for them, but we felt we were just as good as they were,” he said. “They brought in their ace, Patrick Coogan, to shut the door, but I hit a three-run home run off of him and we beat them. Those games were a lot of fun.
“I remember my first start at Texas, going against one of the best right handers in the country. It was about 20 degrees, and he sawed me off. I had gotten a hit the day before. My redshirt year, we hosted LSU at Moore Field and had people hanging from the trees.
“In 1998 in the Sun Belt Tournament in Mobile, we lost the first game of the finals 20-5 to UNO, but came back to beat them 10-8 for the championship.”
Those 1998 Cajuns fell to Tulane and host LSU in the South Regional, but the 1999 team reached a Super Regional and the CWS was next.
“It was the best time of my life,” Cantrelle said. “There’s nothing like playing college baseball.”
Passing the Torch
Cantrelle, a medical device salesman for Phillips working with cardiac catheter labs, is heavily involved in both the legacy of past Cajun teams as well as future hopes of the program.
His son Hayden, a football and baseball star at Teurlings Catholic, has committed to UL baseball – if he’s not snapped up by a professional team before he can play in college.
“It’s been fun to watch him as a father,” said Cantrelle, who coached Hayden in his younger days and is now tutoring son Matthew, 8. “It’s been a blast.
“Hayden is probably everything I was not. He’s fast, agile, strong for his age. He’s a middle infielder and quarterback who can play point guard in basketball. I was an outfielder and possession wide receiver.
“He’s blessed with tools I only dreamed of. I coached him at every level. I think it’s the right thing to do for the kids, to impart knowledge, to give back. From his sophomore year on, I could see he had the chance to be special.
“These last two years have been overwhelming. Recruiting has not been fun. I let him make his choice, and he’s got good options to choose.”
Cantrelle and wife Jessica, of Iota, are also kept busy by daughter Meredith, 9 (dance, tumbling) in a bustling household.
And, more recently, he is among those trying to unite generations of Cajun baseball eras to re-connect with a reunion this spring at the newly remodeled ballpark and to encourage future such endeavors.
It is a logical leadership role for a Cajun player who thrived on making a difference in the game he loved.
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Click the "Spot on Former Athlete" banner on the right side of the news box to view Kevin’s Athletic Network profile. 

To view photos of Kevin and his baseball teammates, click on athleticnetwork.net – Photo Gallery (left side of home page) – Baseball – the years 1995-1998.
 
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