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Baseball: Hanging by a thread: UL takes must-win mentality to ULM

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 18, 2017

The UL baseball team heads to Monroe this week for its final three games of the 2017 regular season with hopes for a fifth straight NCAA Tournament bid intact — but held together, arguably, by a thread.

With that in mind, one slip-up in their Sun Belt Conference series against UL Monroe could cost the Ragin’ Cajuns dearly.

As things stand now, the 32-20-1 Cajuns — who went 2-1 against Texas State last weekend — seem to be on the NCAA Tournament bubble if they don’t win next week’s Sun Belt Tournament championship and the automatic NCAA bid that goes with it.

In a Field of 64 tourney projection updated Wednesday, in fact, Baseball America had Sun Belt-leader South Alabama in but both UL and fellow Sun Belt-member Coastal Carolina among its “first four out.”

But D1Baseball, which had the Cajuns out last week, has UL in this week.

So that’s open to debate.

One-more regular-season blemish, though, could take much air out of the Cajuns chances for the at-large bid needed if they don’t win the league tourney.

“Our goal is — we talked last week — we want to win out,” said UL coach Tony Robichaux, whose Cajuns did stumble a bit with a loss to Texas State last Saturday night in the middle outing of their three-game Sun Belt series.

“We want to win out,” Robichaux added. “But to do that … you’ve got to go game-by-game.”

Should the Cajuns lose one or more in Monroe to the 12-40 Sun Belt cellar-dwelling Warhawks, their only way to get into the NCAA Tournament probably would boil down to having to win it all at the SBC tourney.

The burden, then, is all on them.

“You can’t look at your opponent as much as you,” Robichaux said. “I’ve always said that. I live by that. We’ve got to worry about us.

“Every pitch is important now. We’ve put ourselves in this position, so we’re the ones that have to do get it done.

“So we want to win out. I mean, that’s what we wanted to do,” the Cajun coach added. “But we don’t take our opponent lightly, we don’t assume anything.”

UL’s current RPI is 47, and its resume both is similar to and compares somewhat favorably to the two other Sun Belt teams with bona fide chances for at-large NCAA invite if they don’t win the SBC tourney.

Marks closes key Cajun win over Texas State
South Alabama (34-18) has an RPI of 38 while defending national-champion Coastal Carolina (34-18-1) has an RPI of 46.

Coastal’s hopes may be hurt by a 3-9-1 record against Top 50 RPI teams.

But UL’s resume includes a winning 7-6 record against non-conference Top 50 RPI opponents after losing to LSU (RPI: 12), going 2-1 against Southern Mississippi (RPI: 14), losing to Houston (RPI: 22), beating Texas (RPI: 25), going 1-2 vs. Southeastern Louisiana (RPI: 28), going 1-1 against Louisiana Tech (RPI: 33) and going 2-0 against McNeese State (RPI: 42).

The Cajuns also went 2-1 against South Alabama and 1-1-1 vs. Coastal Carolina, bringing their total record against Top 50 RPI opponents to 10-8-1.

Hurting UL is the fact it was swept in a three-game Sun Belt series at now 29-22 Texas-Arlington in late April, then dropped 2-of-3 the next weekend to now 35-18 Georgia Southern at home.

Then there was the one that away against sub-.500 Texas State last weekend, the Cajuns’ lone loss in what otherwise was a strong 4-1 week last week that also included non-conference home wins over Louisiana Tech and McNeese State.

“We almost ended up in a 5-0 week. … To handle that late in the year is really good,” Robichaux said. “It really helped us continue to create some momentum, because we’re gonna need that now.”

LAGNIAPPE: Robichaux this week said he didn’t think pitcher Jack Burk (forearm) would be available this weekend, “but what we’re shooting for is to get him into the conference tournament with us.” … Robichaux said a recent MRI exam on injured starting centerfielder Ishmael Edwards revealed a torn ligament in addition to a fractured thumb, but he said Edwards potentially could be available for use as a pinch-runner if he's wearing a protective “mitten.” Edwards was initially put in a hard cast after the injury, which was sustained on a slide into second base. … Earlier this week UL right fielder/designated hitter Steven Sensley was named Louisiana Sports Writers Association co-Hitter of the Week.

   RAGIN’ CAJUNS BASEBALL

   WHO: UL (32-20-1, 16-10-1 Sun Belt) at UL Monroe (12-40, 6-21)

   WHERE: Warhawk Field, Monroe

   WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday, 6 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday

   RADIO: KPEL 1420 AM on Thursday night and KPEL 96.5 FM on Friday night and Saturday with Jay Walker and Jeff Schneider

   TV: None

   UL PITCHERS

   Thursday night: LHP Gunner Leger (9-2, 1.95 ERA)

   Friday night: LHP Colten Schmidt (1-1, 3.72)

   Saturday: LHP Hogan Harris (4-2, 2.80) 

    

   ABOUT THE OPPONENT: ULM has lost 10 straight, including all three games of a Sun Belt series at Troy last weekend. … The Warhawks’ last win came last month, on April 28 at Georgia State. … Leading hitter: Turner Francis (.321, team-high 25 RBI)

   ABOUT THE CAJUNS: UL has won four of its last five, including 2-of-3 against Texas State last weekend. … Leading hitter: Steven Sensley (.328, team-high 10 homers, team-leading 43 RBI)



Schilling Distributing