Cajuns sweat the small stuff

LAFAYETTE — His bullpen let a weekend finale slip away Sunday afternoon, and Louisiana-Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux is making that a point of emphasis over the final two weeks of the season.

But Robichaux is also a realist. His third-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns went 4-1 last week, still hold the nation’s best record, figure to move up dramatically in this week’s RPI listings and came within an eyelash of a weekend road sweep that would have locked up the Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship at the earliest point in league history.

In the grand scheme of things, Sunday’s 6-4 loss at Arkansas State was only a minor bump.

“We have a 4-1 week, and we’re upset because we let the last nine outs get away from us,” Robichaux said Monday. “That’s why this team’s been so successful to this point.”

UL-Lafayette posted its eighth straight series win this past weekend, taking the Friday and Saturday games from the second-place Red Wolves, and upped its conference lead to five games with six to go. The Cajuns need one more win to lock up a share of the title and the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament, and two wins would give UL-Lafayette its first outright crown since 2007.

The Cajuns (43-7, 20-4) aren’t just looking to lock down a trophy this weekend when they travel to face longtime rival South Alabama in a weekend series beginning Friday. They’ll be headed back to Mobile, Alabama, in two weeks for the Sun Belt tournament prior before getting an NCAA tournament assignment, and their play over the final two regular-season weeks and in the tournament will determine where that assignment takes place.

UL-Lafayette was ranked 12th in last week’s NCAA RPI listing, which comes out on Tuesdays, and two projections Monday had the Cajuns seventh and eighth. The top squads in the RPI squads will be the top contenders for hosting both NCAA regional and NCAA super regional play; the Cajuns haven’t hosted an NCAA regional since the 2000 College World Series season and have never hosted a super regional.

Robichaux, though, said postseason berths aren’t the goal — yet.

“Our biggest goal right now is to get as consistent as we can,” he said. “We’ve been a little inconsistent out of the bullpen at the end of games. We’ve had a few hiccups, and that’s what I want to shore up. Our first goal is to win every series, and we’ve been able to do that and mix some sweeps in there. And this weekend’s no different, whether it’s for a championship or not. Again, we’re talking about that after a 4-1 week. This team winning so much, they’ve made something very hard look so easy — and it’s not easy.”

The schedule is easier now since UL-Lafayette is done with its regular-season midweek games, but this week the Cajuns are also dealing with final exams for the spring semester. The squad took Monday and Tuesday off, will move its Wednesday drills to early morning and won’t depart for Mobile until late Thursday evening.

The Cajuns led Sunday’s finale 4-2 after six innings, but three relievers struggled with control after starter Cody Boutte threw six innings of three-hit ball.

“It’s a unique week with finals,” Robichaux said. “We’re going to try to get our bullpen some work, get them back on track. We need a couple more guys to get in there and throw strikes. Our biggest problem was what we gave (ASU) with walks and hit batsmen; that’s what we have to work on this week.”

UL-Lafayette remained second in the Perfect Game poll, is still third in both the Baseball America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers polls, dropped to third in the USA Today coaches poll and moved up to third in the Collegiate Baseball poll.

The Cajuns’ 43 wins are five more than anyone else in Division I; Cal Poly is 38-9. UL-Lafayette continues to lead the nation in slugging percentage (.507) and ranks third in scoring (7.9 runs per game) and fourth in team batting (.318).