A Frustrating Weekend for Cajuns’ Baseball – From the Bird’s Nest
Okay, before we talk about baseball, let me share with you what a dummy I am sometimes.
Friday I get to M. L. "Tigue" Moore Field at 4:00, as I always do on a Friday. Matt Stoltz, my buddy who does the radio broadcasts for ASU is already there and we visited for a minute before I set up equipment.
But the power cord to my broadcast unit was missing. I looked throughout the backpack that I carry everything in and couldn't find it. I then realized I must have left it at Walk-Ons after Coach Robe's radio show on Monday night. Well, the last thing I want to do is drive across town to get it, so I went back to the studios to borrow a broadcast unit from one of the other stations. Jeremy Lawrence, brand manager for KPEL-FM was kind enough to let me borrow theirs.
Only problem was, there was a problem. There was something wrong with the unit and it had a short and a horrible buzz. Now, it's 4:45 and I don't have a choice. I have to get to Walk-Ons, get the power cord and try to make it back to the ball park in time to go on the air at 5:30. I called my producer Mark Pope and let him know what was going on and headed down Congress to Camellia Boulevard to Kaliste Saloom. I parked in front of Walk-Ons, went to our broadcast area and the power cord was right there. Back into the car and back to the ball park, being careful not to exceed the speed limit. My guess is Lafayette's finest wasn't going to care about my dilemma if I was caught speeding.
I got to the park at 5:25, got hooked up and reached for my scorebook to start entering the lineups for the game.
Except my scorebook was back at the office. Great. So I got a scoresheet that was in the main press box and now it's time to go on the air. To make a long story somewhat shorter, we got on the air on time and got through the game okay.
That was my Friday.
Fortunately, the Cajuns' baseball team made my Friday bearable.
I have to say, Jordan Nicholson has turned into one of the top pitchers in this league. He got hit hard by Gonzaga in the UTSA tournament, but other than that, he's been really good. He bested Randy Zeigler of ULM last Friday and this time, Jacob Lee of Arkansas State, a preseason all-conference pitcher. Nicholson gave up a two run homer to Zach George in the first inning, but he was really good after that. He kept the Red Wolves at bay while the Cajuns came back to tie the game. Jordan Harrison was equally good Friday night, facing eight batters and getting nine outs. But Nicholson is the type that's going to give the Cajuns a chance to win every Friday, even though he'll be going up against each team's best pitcher. He's all-conference material and that speaks volumes about Robe's ability to develop pitching. Nicholson struggled his first two years at LSU and it wasn't because the competition was better, as he wasn't pitching on the weekend.
Normally, the opposing radio guy and I will visit and talk a little about personnel, which helps both of us in our broadcasts. But because of my stupidity, Matt and I didn't get a chance to visit and I didn't have the opportunity to tell him about Dylan Butler. But that was okay, since Butler introduced himself in the seven run eighth inning. The Cajuns finally got to Lee and the ASU bullpen and took a 1-0 lead in the series.
Saturday I was at the park at noon and had all my equipment and my scorebook. Matt and I did get an opportunity to visit. He told me Daniel Wright had been pitching really well despite his 0-2 record. He also said he felt this was one of the Cajuns' best hitting teams he'd seen (he started in 2006.) He told me he really liked our young lineup.
Chris Griffitt started for the Cajuns. Griffitt, like T. J. Geith in his first season with the Cajuns has had a problem getting through the middle innings. His longest outing had been 5.2 innings against ULM last week. And, sure enough, it happened again. Griffitt gave up an unearned run in the third and another run in the fifth, but it was 2-2 leading into the sixth inning. Tony lifted him in the sixth after he gave up a double and a single to lead off the inning. Arkansas State got a sacrifice fly to tie the game, but the Cajuns had a chance to get out of the inning. But Derek Howell gave up a two run triple to Michael Faulkner and that was the ball game.
Faulkner has just murdered the Cajuns in his career. The center fielder hits either first or second in the lineup and can really run. Last year he was the player of the week in the league after the Cajuns' series, when he went 8-12. He was 18-33 in his career against the Cajuns coming into the weekend. In this series he was 5-14, but every hit he got was a big one. He wound up driving in six runs on the weekend.
I didn't know Caleb Kellogg was unavailable for the weekend until Tony mentioned it on Sunday's pregame show. That meant the Cajuns needed a good start from Joe Zimmerman on Sunday. And, they didn't get it. Zimmerman had a great first outing against Wichita State but had a nagging groin injury. He hasn't been effective since. Arkansas State had a chance to blow this game open early, but stranded ten baserunners over the first four innings and only led 4-3 after four innings. Usually, when a team has those chances and doesn't get it done, it comes back to bite them. But ASU got away with it. The Cajuns offense kept fighting, but every time they'd get close, ASU would extend the lead. They never got the big inning, but scored in enough innings to prevent the Cajuns from getting the lead. It was a two run single by Faulkner (who else?) that staked the Red Wolves to a two run lead. The hit came, however, after home plate umpire Scott Kennedy absolutely gagged a third strike against #9 hitter Dustin Jones. Umpires don't always get every pitch right, but twice in crucial situations over the weekend, the Cajuns had a strikeout and didn't get the call. And, each time it cost them runs.
Still, the Cajuns trailed by just one going into the ninth. But reliever Austin Robichaux made an errant pickoff throw with two outs and a runner at first. With the runner now in scoring position, guess who was up? Yep, Faulkner, who singled right up the middle to give ASU a two run lead. Tony was second-guessing himself after the game for not walking Faulkner with first base open.
In the bottom of the ninth, more frustration. Dylan Butler led off the inning with a bloop single that appeared to bounce over the head of the right fielder. But it didn't go far and Butler was gunned down trying to take second base. Now, the next hitter, Chase Compton followed with a grounder to second that probably would have been a double play, but we'll never know for sure. Tyler Frederick then doubled and Daniel Nichols singled him home to get the Cajuns within a run, but the baserunning gaffe loomed large when Jace Conrad flied to center to end it.
In my twenty years of broadcasting Cajuns' baseball, there have been some frustrating weekends. But, most of them have been when the Cajuns' pitchers didn't get rewarded for a good performance because the offense couldn't get it going.
This offense is good enough to win games, and they've proven that. But the Cajuns need a dependable starter after Nicholson. Griffitt has to be able to pitch deeper in the game and someone has to step up on Sunday.
Tony doesn't really want to put a freshman into the weekend rotation. But, unless Zimmerman is able to work through his problems, Tony may not have a choice.
Austin Robichaux will get the start Wednesday against LSU. Because it's a Wednesday, the Cajuns have to be careful with their pitching, especially with a trip to league-leading FAU this weekend. Don't be surprised if he limits Austin's pitch count, just in case he needs him on Sunday. The Cajuns also need for Kellogg to recover in a hurry. After already having lost Chase Traffica and Ben Carter, the Cajuns simply can't afford to lose another pitcher.