Ragin’ Cajuns host ULM in regular-season finale

LAFAYETTE — A lot has changed for the UL-Monroe baseball team since the Warhawks faced Louisiana-Lafayette two months ago.

For the Ragin’ Cajuns, not so much.

UL-Lafayette had won 14 of its first 16 games when the state rivals met in Monroe in mid-March, and the Cajuns added to that with a three-game sweep in which they outscored the Warhawks 39-4. That success has continued. UL-Lafayette enters the Sun Belt Conference’s final weekend with the nation’s best record (46-7) and with the Sun Belt regular-season title already locked up.

The Cajuns’ sweep in Monroe came during a streak of 11 losses in 12 games for ULM, leading to the ouster of eight-year head coach Jeff Schexnaider after he led the Warhawks to the NCAA tournament two years ago. Hitting coach Bruce Peddie, the former head coach at UNO, took over on an interim basis.

The Warhawks (22-31, 11-16 Sun Belt) were 8-17 when Peddie moved up and are 14-14 since — and Tuesday, ULM removed the interim tag from Peddie’s title.

“Bruce is doing a good job with keeping them together,” UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux said. “Coaching change is tough and it can go one of two ways, and maybe they’ve rallied around this issue and playing better because of it. They’re scoring more runs. They haven’t pitched very well, but they’re scoring runs.”

Robichaux’s task is to limit that scoring when both teams open their final regular-season series Thursday at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field. To do that — and to line up the Cajuns pitching staff for next week’s Sun Belt Tournament and for NCAA regional play that follows — Robichaux will make a big change in his team’s pitching rotation.

Junior right-hander Greg Milhorn (5-2, 5.51), UL-Lafayette’s Sunday starter the first four weeks of the year before a pulled muscle and recent inconsistency limited his outing, is slated for Thursday’s 6 p.m. game. Junior right-hander Carson Baranik (9-1, 3.02) and senior left-hander Cody Boutte (7-0, 2.66) both move up one day with the one-day-earlier series.

That leaves regular series-opener starter Austin Robichaux in an “if necessary” role, and as a possibility for the following Wednesday’s tournament opener — which could be against this same ULM team if the Warhawks finish eighth in the standings. Robichaux (7-2, 3.06), who himself has come back from a bout with tendinitis, checked South Alabama on two hits with eight strikeouts over seven innings in last Friday’s opening 5-2 win in Mobile.

“Austin looked good,” Tony Robichaux said. “He got back to dominating an opponent and not just pitching. We’re trying to line up our pitching for the conference tournament and beyond, and we need Milhorn and (reliever Matt) Plitt to come back strong for us.”

The UL-Lafayette coach’s mound concerns aren’t nearly as great as Peddie’s, as ULM ranks dead last in the Sun Belt in pitching with a 5.94 team ERA — a mark that is even worse (7.08) in league play. Senior right-hander Jared Dye (1-2, 5.11) and sophomore right-hander Alex Hermeling (1-5, 5.25) are the scheduled starters Thursday and in Friday’s 6 p.m. game, with the 3 p.m. Saturday finale starter to be determined.

The Warhawks, who are also last in hitting (.244) and team fielding (.949), need one victory this week to lock down a berth in next week’s eight-team conference tournament. That may not be easy against a Cajuns lineup that’s hitting .334 as a team in Sun Belt play, where they’ve swept five and won the other four series this season.

ULM won its first series since mid-April last weekend in taking two of three over Georgia State, including 10-6 and 11-1 wins in the final two games.

“They have a lot on the line,” Robichaux said. “There’s so many teams bunched up to make the tournament, anything can happen. But they played well and they scored a lot of runs against Georgia State.”

UL-Lafayette will honor its seniors before Saturday’s game and will also hold graduation ceremonies on the field for Cajuns players who have completed their degrees this year.