Cajuns face busy week, deal with short staff

LAFAYETTE — There is no good time for a baseball team to be short on pitching numbers, and that’s a concern for Louisiana-Lafayette as the Ragin’ Cajuns continue a busy midseason stretch.

The Cajuns, who moved back to the No. 1 spot in Collegiate Baseball’s national poll Monday, play their third five-game week in the past four weeks beginning Tuesday. UL-Lafayette (30-3) hosts UNO at Moore Field, travels Wednesday to face a hot McNeese State team, and puts its Sun Belt Conference lead on the line against Arkansas-Little Rock in a Friday-Sunday series.

They’ll do all that with some health questions involving two top-line pitchers.

Regular Friday starter Austin Robichaux (4-2, 2.92) did not pitch last weekend during the Cajuns’ three-game sweep at Troy because of a sore arm. Greg Milhorn (2-1, 2.08), who pitched on Sundays in UL-Lafayette’s first four weekend series, has not pitched since March 9 with a pulled oblique muscle.

Coach Tony Robichaux said both could return this week, but he’s going to err on the side of caution. He said Milhorn could throw an inning at McNeese on Wednesday and that Austin Robichaux would throw in the bullpen early this week, with no timetable for a return.

“The right thing to do is get Austin and Milhorn rest,” he said. “We want to be good at the end, and our hitters protected the pitching staff all week. That’s one good thing about this team, we have guys picking each other up. When somebody falls, we have somebody there to pick them up.”

UL-Lafayette scored double-digit runs in all three wins over the Trojans, lessening the impact of not having two of the anticipated weekend starters available. The staff is still without the services of injured Trace Guidry and Chris Charpentier as well as Seth Harrison, who has played regularly in center field but is expected to return to some mound duties in the near future.

“Milhorn could have thrown this past weekend,” Robichaux said. “He wasn’t real happy about it, but we weren’t going to put him in if we weren’t sure he was ready. Austin had a little tightness in his forearm, and we didn’t want him to go out and get anything inflamed, since we didn’t have to do that.”

Matt Hicks (4-0, 1.83), who got the start and the win in last week’s midweek clash with Tulane, is the likely starter against the Privateers on Tuesday. The Cajuns used six pitchers in that 16-0 win over the Green Wave, and Robichaux said the bullpen will split duties against UNO, which is 9-20 and had lost six in a row before a 10-6 Sunday win over Incarnate Word.

UNO, with longtime coach Ron Maestri back in those duties this season, will be facing the Cajuns for the first time since 2010. The teams were scheduled to play last year but the game was rained out.

Redshirt freshman Connor Toups (1-0, 1.35) is the tentative starter Wednesday against the Cowboys (19-11), who have won five of their past six and lead the Southland Conference with a 9-3 record.

“We know Wednesday will be tough,” Robichaux said. “They’re playing well, and we’ll be on the road. But our hitters like hitting in that park.”

The Cajuns are 13-0 on the road this year after taking the Sun Belt sweep at Troy.

“We have a veteran team with a lot of guys back from last year, we shored up our pitching, and we play good defense,” Robichaux said. “You have all of those, and you’re going to be good. I can’t say that I thought we’d be unbeaten on the road at this point, but we don’t have any weaknesses unless we allow them to show up.”

UL-Lafayette has scored double-digit runs in seven of its past nine games and moved into the national lead in team slugging percentage (.541) and home runs (41 and 1.24 per game) along with win-loss percentage (.909).

That offensive surge helped the Cajuns move back atop the Collegiate Baseball rankings after ranking second last week, and to no worse than third nationally in all five major polls. The Cajuns moved from fourth to third in the Baseball America, National Collegiate Baseball Writers and Perfect Game rankings, and from sixth to third in the USA Today coaches poll.