LAFAYETTE — It’s a long way for an eighth-place preseason Sun Belt Conference pick to reach the College World Series.
That’s the benchmark however that University of Louisiana at Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux always sets for his team .And this year, he said, that hasn’t changed.
Robichaux’s hoped-for road to Omaha begins at 7 p.m. Friday at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field in the first of a four-game, season-opening weekend series against Central Michigan with a young pitching staff and an offense that plans to display more aggressiveness.
ULL finished last in the SBC last season (23-30, 11-19) and was often plagued with inconsistent hitting and a defense that placed the Cajuns near the bottom of the conference in fielding.
Robichaux said during a news conference earlier this week that it’s understandable that the Ragin’ Cajuns have been chosen to finish in the lower half of the SBC for a second straight year.
“We know where people picked us, but that’s not an issue with us, because that’s an opinion. I can understand where (the league coaches) draw that conclusion. It’s because of us.
“This year, we have 18 players who don’t even know what happened last year. Last year is something that people can only bring back up,” Robichaux said.
ULL has reached the CWS once (in 2000) during Robichaux’s previous 18 years, but he said that hasn’t changed his mind about establishing where the bar is set for his current team.
“Last year is not an issue with that, because there are 17 other years where I’ve failed to (reach the CWS). During a season, you’re going to win a third and lose a third. Eight teams that were in Omaha last year had 18 losses. That’s a third.
“It comes down to what you do with the other third, and that’s where I think we can make a difference this season,” Robichaux said.
ULL batted .263 as a team in 2012 and hit just 18 home runs.
To help alter the offense, Robichaux has placed Matt Deggs, a former Texas A&M assistant, in charge of hitting.
“I like where we are right now with the hitters and their mentality, which I think is the biggest thing that has changed. It’s not just a change in the hitting, but it’s also more of a mental approach that has brought that toughness back.
“We want to be more aggressive. We plan to throw that first lick rather than waiting to get punched,” Robichaux said.
Robichaux said part of the offensive plan is to make it more strenuous for pitchers to survive an inning.
“For instance, if we go 0-2 into the count, we try to foul off the next four, five or six pitches. It doesn’t matter whether (the hitter) is out. You’ve just taken away something from the pitcher, so by the middle of the game, he’s way up there in the pitch count,” Robichaux said.
Robichaux said ULL plans to start Chase Traffica on Friday against Central Michigan and then use Austin Robichaux and Cody Boutte as starters for the doubleheader scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Traffica has not pitched since 2011 because of injuries, and Boutte is a transfer who played on the 2012 national junior college championship team at LSU-Eunice.
Austin Robichaux, son of Tony Robichaux, was one of the top pitchers on a ULL staff that last year led the conference in several categories.
“Pitching is where we’ve got a lot of inexperience, so we are going to try to throw a lot of people. It will probably take us two or three arms to get through a game. We will reevaluate that after the weekend and see how everything meshed out,” Robichaux said.
In the outfield, ULL has two potential starters in junior college transfers Ryan Wilson and Seth Harrison. That means Robichaux will have more options that include Dylan Butler (eight homers in 2012) and Ryan Leonards (.327) a former infielder who will play at lot of center field.
The Cajuns are set at first base with Chase Compton (.328), who was chosen hitter of the year in his Alaskan summer collegiate league, while Jace Conrad returns at second base.
Freshman Blake Trahan is the probable shortstop starter, while Tyler Girouard and Sam Carriere are at third base.
It might be unusual to play a freshman shortstop, but Robichaux said that so far, Trahan has earned the position.
Michael Strentz will start most games at catcher, but Robichaux said freshman NickThurman will play some this weekend.
Robichaux is six wins shy of 900 as a Division I head coach. Robichaux, (894-616-1) who also coached McNeese State, has 26 seasons as a head coach. ... This is the 36th straight year that the Cajuns have played at Moore Field. ULL’s all-time record at the facility is 767-303-2.