Cajuns Grew Through Adversity – From the Bird’s Nest
Reflecting on the ride home from Troy after the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship, I thought about the beginning of the 2015 baseball season. I honestly didn't have any expectations for the season. After all, there were only remnants remaining after the 58-10 team of 2014:
74% of the offense--gone.
82% of the pitching--gone.
Six drafted juniors--gone.
Three weekend starters--gone
Six every day players--gone
Four of the top five relievers--gone.
Two-thirds of the coaching staff--gone.
The team struggled out of the gate. They lost six of their first eleven games. They went on a winning streak and won their first Sun Belt series with a sweep of Troy. But this was a team with plenty of deficiencies. It was a team with a lot of newcomers, especially in the pitching staff. The team was inconsistent.
But as I continued to think about the road this team traveled to get to the celebration at Riddle-Pace Field on Sunday, I realized the day this team started to get better.
Friday, March 20, 2015---It was quiet on the bus. A dejected bunch of Ragin' Cajuns had just dropped their third straight game in heartbreaking fashion, falling to Georgia State 7-6 on a walkoff in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was the third straight conference game in which the Cajuns were beaten in walkoff fashion, having lost two in Little Rock the weekend before. Louisiana head coach Tony Robichaux got up and walked partway to the back of the bus.
"I just want you guys to know something," he said. "This coaching staff is not going to abandon you. Some fans might. You might read stuff on the internet. But we as coaches will not abandon you...okay?"
"Yes SIR," was the resounding response. Then a voice came from the back. It was Tyler Girouard.
"We're not gonna quit, coach."
The next day the Cajuns went out and swept a doubleheader from the Panthers, and the road to recovery began.
There were still rough spots. At mid season, the Cajuns were 15-13.
They didn't quit.
They got on a hot streak and won fifteen of seventeen. But they lost a series at last place Appalachian State and followed that up with a home series loss to South Alabama.
They didn't quit.
They swept their season ending series in Monroe against ULM and had some confidence heading into the conference tournament. And, they were fine for eight innings in their opener against Texas State. But then disaster struck.
In the ninth inning with a three run lead and two out, outfielder Kyle Clement, on his birthday, dropped a routine fly ball. Two runs scored. Then second baseman Stefan Trosclair kicked a ground ball and, after David Paiz blooped a double to right off Dylan Moore, the Cajuns were stunned 8-7.
Welcome to the loser's bracket. One game away from elimination and a contest against the host team the next day. And, yet, this team still seemed confident. Then they gave up five runs in the first inning to Troy and their days at the tournament seemed to be numbered.
They didn't quit.
Robichaux is fond of saying if you work through adversity, the game will pay you back.
After dropping the fly ball, Clement went 10 for 21 at the plate. He played flawless defense. He doubled in the first inning of the championship game and scored the Cajuns' first run. And, the final out of the game was hit to him. He did not drop it.
After kicking the ground ball, Trosclair drove in a total of 13 runs en route to being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. He drove in all five runs in the championship game, including the most famous grand slam home run in Cajuns baseball history
After giving up five runs in one-third of an inning against Troy, Freshman Wyatt Marks pitched seven innings of shutout ball with eight strikeouts in an elimination game against Texas State.
After giving up the game winning hit and being saddled with the loss in the opener against Texas State, freshman Dylan Moore got fourteen crucial outs on Saturday, earning his tenth and eleventh saves of the season en route to being named to the all-tournament team.
After allowing four earned runs in two starts against Appalachian State and South Alabama and being rewarded with two losses, Gunner Leger pitched eight innings of one run ball in the championship game on just three days rest against South Alabama and was named to the All-Tournament team.
And, then there was Greg Milhorn.
You may not remember that Milhorn was the starting pitcher in the title game in 2014 against UT Arlington. He lasted exactly 1.1 innings before Robichaux had to take him out of the game. He allowed four hits and three runs. On Sunday, Milhorn pitched four innings of one hit relief and got the win in the championship game. He was on the mound when the celebration began.
They all had one thing in common. They didn't quit. And, the game paid them back.
Some will disagree, but I truly believe the road to that championship began on that bus in Atlanta back in March.
Tony Robichaux and his staff pledged not to quit on their team.
The game paid them back, too.