Robichaux seeks to create new baseball memories

LAFAYETTE — Even though he was only 6 years old, Austin Robichaux has vivid memories of Louisiana-Lafayette’s 2000 trip to the College World Series.

He also has memories from just over 13 months ago, from his last trip to Alex Box Stadium, and those aren’t nearly as fond. And the Ragin’ Cajun sophomore is hoping he gets the chance to wipe out some of those nightmares Saturday.

Robichaux figures to be ULL’s starting pitcher in game two of this weekend’s Baton Rouge Regional when he becomes the second of Cajun coach Tony Robichaux’s sons to play in NCAA postseason competition. If the second-seeded Cajuns (41-18) are successful in their 7 p.m. Friday regional opener against third-seeded Sam Houston State, Robichaux could well face host LSU for the second time in as many seasons.

The first meeting, coming midway through the Crowley-Notre Dame product’s freshman season, didn’t go as planned. Tiger hitters Mason Katz and Grant Dozar each had home runs in the first three innings, and ULL never recovered in a 5-0 Alex Box loss that featured a rain delay of nearly 90 minutes.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I think about that,” Robichaux said of that March 28 game. “They roughed me up a lot last year. But this is a whole new season, and everything before this weekend, you push out the window.”

It has been a whole new season for the slender 6-foot-5 right-hander. He’s gone from 2-4 last year to an 8-2 record this year, mostly against opponents’ top arms in Friday-night conference series. And he’s coming off a complete-game four-hitter in which he allowed one earned run, walked none and struck out five against national No. 17 RPI South Alabama in a 9-2 win in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

The elder Robichaux said that putting his youngest on the mound at Alex Box in last year’s midweek game was part of the master plan.

“We did that so he could be prepared,” Tony Robichaux said. “He wasn’t ready for that, but not a lot of guys are ready for something like that in that environment. Now he’s more prepared. We felt that he’d eventually be a Friday night arm for us, and eventually he’d have to take someone down for us.”

“We’re glad we were able to do that, because he and all of us are better off now.”

Austin Robichaux pitched the Cajuns’ second game in the Sun Belt tournament, with ULL going to left-hander Ryan Wilson in the opener because of matchups. Tony Robichaux said the Cajuns would match up the lefty Wilson (6-4) against SHSU on Friday, especially after Wilson’s four-hit, six-strikeout gem in a 12-2, seven-inning, run-rule win over South Alabama in the league tournament.

If Friday’s game goes true to seeding, Austin Robichaux would match up against LSU ace Aaron Nola (10-0) in Saturday’s 7 p.m. winners’ bracket game.

Last year’s team had few hopes of NCAA play with its 23-30 record, a season in which Robichaux and many other youngsters were lineup regulars. Now, despite having no position-playing seniors on the entire roster and only two senior relievers on the pitching staff, the Cajuns are a mirror of their Friday night pitcher experiencewise as they make their first NCAA appearance since 2010.

It’s not the younger Robichaux’s first on-field NCAA experience, though. Austin spent much of the 2007 regional in College Station, Texas, shagging batting-practice balls for his dad’s squad as a 13-year-old.

“That’s something that not many kids get to do,” he said. “Now I’ve gone from following the bus to being on the bus.”

The family also followed the Cajuns on the memorable 2000 trip to Omaha, and Austin remembers it like it was yesterday.

“I was with them the whole time ... on the bus, everything,” he said. “Being around and hanging out with the players, getting to have that kind of experience, I remember every moment.”

His most vivid memories are of the Cajuns’ second World Series win that year, a 5-4 victory over Clemson in which ULL got two homers in the fourth inning and a steal of home by Steven Feehan in the fifth for a 3-0 lead. Then, after Clemson scored four times in the seventh, ULL scored twice in the bottom of the ninth, the second on a Feehan bunt that was misplayed by the Tigers, allowing Rick Haydel to score from second base with the game-winner.

“The whole game against Clemson, the slide into home and winning it, seeing it makes you want to be a part of it even more,” Austin Robichaux said. “After seeing the chemistry that team had, and what they went through, I wanted to be a part of that.”