Rabalais: Ragin’ Cajuns’ year has been ‘magical’ — and there’s more left

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- The Ragin' Cajuns practice Friday at Moore Field before the super regional with Ole Miss. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- The Ragin' Cajuns practice Friday at Moore Field before the super regional with Ole Miss.

This is, by far, the best athletic year Louisiana-Lafayette has ever had.

It’s been so good, it’s hard to even think of what year would take second place.

Care to guess how many schools in 2013-14 have won a bowl game, earned a berth in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and hosted super regionals in softball and baseball?

As one would say in French, une universite.

UL-Lafayette.

The one and only.

It’s been quite the incredible ride, so rich with trophies and titles and TV appearances even Athletic Director Scott Farmer can barely believe it.

“It’s been magical,” Farmer said, quickly adding that his men’s tennis team won the Sun Belt Conference title, too, and that his school led the SBC with a cumulative 2.99 GPA.

“For a school like this, a mid-major, to have success like this is one for the ages.”

At this point, the Cajuns might be wise to cash in their chips and start tallying up all the magic moments for the annual Ragin’ Cajuns Athletic Foundation newsletter. No time like when you’re on top to hit the happy folks for more donations, especially with that new Cajun Field south end zone addition rising up across the parking lot from M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field and numerous other facility upgrades to fund.

But the Cajuns are shooting for one more goal to make a glorious summer complete in Acadiana.

UL-Lafayette is two wins from the biggest prize of all: the College World Series. A chance to paint Omaha’s Dodge Street vermilion and bring back steaming vats of jambalaya to the tailgating spots outside TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.

The Cajuns have reason enough to dream big. They shook off a shocking opening loss to Jackson State last weekend to roar back and win the Lafayette regional. They have the best record and the best hitting team in the land.

But it’s a long, steep climb from base camp in August, when 302 teams shout “Omaha!” as their ultimate goal, to getting to college baseball’s lofty summit.

The heights get dizzying, even if you’re playing near sea level as they will be here this weekend.

“Everyone can walk across a board on the ground,” UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux said. “But take it 10 flights up, and a lot of people won’t want to do that.

“It’s the same board. What changes are your surroundings.”

The Cajuns haven’t scaled the CWS mountain since 2000, when its many bushy bearded players were in grade school.

Their personal GPS devices don’t work in the unchartered waters they’re navigating now. And they have to find their way while avoiding a big obstacle named Ole Miss.

The Rebels are all the challenge the Cajuns could ask for. They won the Southeastern Conference Western division and fought their way out of a Group of Death-like regional on their home field in Oxford, Mississippi, to earn their way here.

The Rebels’ Saturday and Sunday starters, Chris Ellis and former LSU pitcher Christian Trent of Madisonville, are a combined 19-1 this season. Maybe no one hits like UL-Lafayette (though the Rebels come close), but few teams pitch like Ole Miss. Just think back a year ago how an anemic-hitting UCLA team rode a bullpen full of fire extinguishers to the CWS title.

Still, momentum is an awesome force, and it’s something the Cajuns have on their side. It started way back in football season, coursed through basketball season, took a side trip to Oklahoma City for the WCWS and now rumbles like a huge unseen generator beneath Moore Field’s faultless artificial turf.

“I can’t even put into words how I feel right now,” said Austin Robichaux, UL-Lafayette’s Saturday starter, who was there watching with wide eyes as his dad’s team won its way to Omaha 14 years ago.

“My brother tells me every day how lucky I am. He didn’t get the opportunity (to go to Omaha). We’re pretty excited.”

Excitement for UL-Lafayette athletics is two wins away from going off the charts.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.