Breaking Down the Cajuns and Warhawks – From the Bird’s Nest
Earlier in the week, I looked at scenarios concerning the Cajuns’ chances of getting into the Sun Belt Conference tournament. The tiebreakers work in the Cajuns’ advantage with a series win because they’ll be tied with Louisiana-Monroe, and, having played two series with the Warhawks, their 4-2 advantage would give them a leg up, not only on ULM, but in a three way or four way (or even five way) tiebreaker.
So, who’s going to win the series this weekend?
That’s anyone’s guess.
Earlier in the season, the Cajuns won two of three from the Warhawks in Monroe. And, they managed to do that because, at the time, three of the mainstays of the ULM lineup weren’t hitting. Leadoff man Les Aulds was under .200 and had been dropped to ninth in the order. Corben Green, who was off to an incredible start last season until an injury sidelined him, was under .200 as well. And, second baseman Caleb Clowers, a pre-season all-Sun Belt selection, was hitting about .225.
They’re better now.
Clowers has hit safely in 20 straight games and his batting average is over .280. Green and Aulds have raised their batting average about 50 points each.
Combine that with the hitting of shortstop Jeremy Sy, third baseman Judd Edwards and all-SBC first baseman Joey Rapp, and you’ve got six guys in the lineup who can be dangerous.
Coach Jeff Schexnaider still hasn’t found enough depth in his weekend pitching staff, but he’s managed to put things together. It’s interesting that the ULM coach is changing that rotation for this weekend. Here’s a look at the matchups.
THURSDAY–Randy Zeigler (3-6, 3.55) vs. Jordan Nicholson (3-6, 3.97)
This will be a rematch of the Friday night game in Monroe in March. The two were teammates at LSU before transferring to their respective schools. In the first meeting, both were pretty stingy. Zeigler gave up just four hits in 7.2 innings, but was victimized by three errors and was charged with four of the five runs, only two earned. Nicholson, meanwhile, was masterful, allowing just four singles in a complete game win, throwing 116 pitches. Nicholson was named SBC Pitcher of the Week for his efforts. But, it’s the only win he’s had in conference play.
After a couple of weekends, Schexnaider moved Zeigler to Saturday, mainly because the Warhawks just weren’t giving him any offensive support when facing another team’s ace pitcher. It’s interesting Zeigler is moving back to a game one start this week and will pitch on four days rest. Schexnaider obviously realizes game one is going to be really really big.
For Zeigler to be successful, he has to throw strikes. He’s walked 51 in 88.2 innings and when he’s been chased early, it’s because he’s struggled with his control. Nicholson, meanwhile, has to do what he did a week ago–keep the ball in the ball park. Although the Cajuns have hit left-handed pitching much better of late, runs could be hard to come by for both teams if both pitchers are on.
FRIDAY–Cale Wine (6-4, 4.20) VS. Chris Griffitt (6-3, 3.88)
Griffitt didn’t figure in the decision in a 5-3, 10-inning Cajuns win in the Saturday game in Monroe, but pitched well. He gave up six hits and three runs in 5.2 innings without walking a batter. Two of the runs he gave up were solo homers. Wine got the Sunday win, working five innings and giving up 10 hits but only three runs. The Cajuns were able to work his pitch count and he was removed after 105 pitches. Like Zeigler, Wine will be pitching on four days rest after throwing last Sunday in a no-decision against Troy where he pitched very well.
SATURDAY–TBA vs. Austin Robichaux (2-4, 2.91)
Robichaux did not face ULM in the Monroe series. The reigning SBC Pitcher of the Week was masterful against a good hitting team in a small park last week. When the freshman has command in the strike zone, he’s awfully good. And, he’s been awfully good at M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field this year, sporting a 1.95 ERA at home. It’s important the defense play well behind Robichaux, who will get a lot of ground balls if he has his good stuff. ULM has been using Shelby Aulds (3-2. 4.94) on Friday the last couple of weeks and he’s certainly a candidate for game three. Who Schnexnaider starts will depend on who he has to use in the bullpen the first two games. His best bullpen arms are lefty Kendall Thamm (4-3, 3.76) and righty Wil Browning (5.3, 3.83). Neither has started a game this year, but with both teams fighting for a spot in the tournament, you may see some things you haven’t seen all year, especially in game three.
It should be noted the Cajuns made one error in the three games played in Monroe in March. Obviously for both teams, playing well behind the pitchers is going to be important. Playing on the turf will benefit both infields, and ULM will be used to it, having played on turf last weekend in Troy.
These teams are separated by one game in the standings and looking at the matchups, its easy to understand why. Statistically they’re pretty even. But this weekend, it all starts on the mound. Nicholson has to keep the ball in the ball park. Griffitt has to stay out of three ball counts and keep his pitch count down. Robichaux has to get ground balls and his defense needs to be sharp behind him.
For ULM, I think the key will be how many innings they get from their starters. Having to use Browning and/or Thamm for extended periods on Thursday may hurt them later in the weekend. But if their starters can get them deep and the two bullpen arms stay sharp, they’ve got a shot.