Cajuns bullpen shaping up for NCAAs

About the only thing that didn’t go according to plan for the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team in the Sun Belt Conference tournament was that two starting pitchers made early exits.

Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year Carson Baranik lasted just 2.1 innings against Texas State last Thursday, and Greg Milhorn lasted just 1.1 against UT-Arlington in the championship game Sunday.

But even that worked out as the Ragin’ Cajuns swept four games to win the title, and the bullpen got added work and proved to be up to the challenge. Similar performances from the relievers and a bounce-back start from Baranik would give UL-Lafayette just the pitching consistency it will be looking for in the Lafayette regional of the NCAA tournament.

Austin Robichaux (7-2, 3.01) will start the top-seeded Cajuns opener against Jackson State on Friday night.

“Our bullpen has really done a nice job over the last 2½ to three weeks,” UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux said. “We’re going to need it to be able to make this run.”

In the Sun Belt tourney, eight relievers made a combined 13 appearances. They pitched a total of 19.2 innings, allowed 10 hits, and had an earned run average of 1.37. They walked eight, struck out 14 and had three wins and two saves.

“Earlier in the season, everybody was kind of struggling out of the pen,” said Chris Charpentier, who replaced Milhorn and threw five solid innings to help the Cajuns rally in the title game. “Now everything is starting to come together.”

Matt Plitt pitched in three of the games and had a win and a save. Martin Anderson had the other win out the bullpen and made two scoreless outings. Matt Hicks relieved Baranik and pitched 3.1 scoreless innings to help with another come-from-behind win.

Riley Cooper had two scoreless outings, Ryan Wilson allowed one earned run in two outings, Chris Griffitt finished off the Thursday win with two scoreless innings, and Seth Harrison came in from center field to retire UTA’s No. 3 and No. 4 hitters with the tying run in scoring position and save the title game.

“We’ll need (Harrison) because he’s got great stuff,” Robichaux said. “He got two of the best hitters out, and that’s what he has the ability to do: get somebody’s best hitters out.”

Robichaux said he didn’t like pulling starters in the second and third innings, but he did like the amount of work the bullpen got and how it performed.

“It put pressure on our bullpen to pitch under duress,” he said. “We got some arms to come in that hadn’t thrown a lot. And we threw a lot of guys under duress, and I think that’s good.

“I was glad to see us do what we did with our bullpen, because we’re going to be facing good hitting teams from now on.”

UL-Lafayette had to go deep into the bullpen in its past game before the conference tourney as it beat Louisiana-Monroe 6-5 in 14 innings, using seven relievers, on May 17.

“I do like playing close games the last two weeks, because scores are going to come down and because pitching is going to get better now,” Robichaux said. “You’re going to 64 teams playing now. I hope we score a lot of runs, but I’m glad the last two weeks we’ve had to come from behind, use a lot of the bullpen.”

Though the bullpen has handled most of what has been thrown at it of late, the starters have generally made things relatively easy for the relievers this season.

Baranik is 10-1 with a 3.30 ERA, and No. 3 starter Cody Boutte is 8-0 with a 2.75 ERA.

Millhorn began the season as the Sunday starter and was 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA after five appearances before an oblique strain sidelined him for a month. Boutte took over the Sunday starter’s role, and since then, Millhorn is 3-1 with an 11.64 ERA in seven appearances.

“We’re lucky in our pitching depth,” Robichaux said. “It strengthens people’s bullpen if you have three good starters. We’ve been fortunate to have three good starters all year. I think that matches us up real good. And once you get to a super, if you’re fortunate enough to, then you dump that guy in the bullpen, and your bullpen gets better now.

“Or you could use that guy as a double starter if somebody gets chased early. I like the way this thing is set up for us.”

Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.