Cajuns/Troy meet in critical Sun Belt showdown
Last year at this very time, Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns were sitting at 13-8 in Sun Belt Conference play and into another critical weekend in their race toward the league championship.
This year, the Cajuns are once again at 13-8, sitting two games out of first place and in a three way tie for second with Florida International and Florida Atlantic.
And, at the end of this weekend, we'll know whether Louisiana is a true contender or not.
The Cajuns take on league-leading Troy on the road this weekend. The Trojans have been very, very good at Riddle-Pace Field with a record of 26-4. They hit seventy points better at home than on the road. They pitch better at home as well.
The Cajuns have dominated the series since Troy joined the league in 2006. In fact, the Cajuns have never lost a series to the Trojans since the two have been conference mates. Louisiana's record against Troy is 13-4, with two of the wins coming in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
The reason the Cajuns have had the Trojans' number is simple. Friday night dominance.
Even in the year Troy won the league championship (2006), they couldn't beat the Cajuns on Friday. And, the last few seasons, they haven't come close on Friday night.
Hunter Moody in 2008 and 2009. Zach Osborne the last two years. Osborne allowed just six hits total in eighteen innings against the Trojans.
But this year could be different. Because this year, the Friday night dominator pitches for Troy.
Tyler Ray was the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year two years ago. And, he'll probably be the Pitcher of the Year this year. Troy has won each of the eleven times that Ray has taken the mound. Ray himself is 10-0, with an ERA of 1.83. He's not a strikeout guy, averaging about five per game. But he knows how to pitch and he has great command, walking only ten in nearly 80 innings of work.
And, when he works, Troy's bullpen has been stellar.
Tyson Workman (3-3, 3 sv, 2.22) and Nathan Hill (2-0, 2.48, 2 sv) have given Bobby Pierce a very good 1-2 punch in crunch time. They've combined for 74 strikeouts in 61 innings.
It's really the first time that Troy seems to have the advantage in the Friday night pitching matchup, and it will be up to lefthander Taylor Hubbell to match Ray on the mound. Hubbell is certainly capable.
The Trojans were nationally ranked earlier in the season, but have stumbled of late. Part of the reason is Troy hasn't been great away from Riddle-Pace (5-9). And, part of the reason is the loss of Drew Hull.
Hull was matching Ray's numbers as Troy's #2 starter when he went down for the season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, meaning introduction to a guy named Tommy John. Hull was 4-0. 2.04 at the time of his injury four weeks ago. Troy will change its rotation this weekend. Ryan Sorce, who had pitched well in Hull's absence, got rocked last weekend at FAU and he'll be replaced on Saturday by lefthander Jimmy Hodgskin, moved up from Sunday. Hodgskin is 2-4. 4.08.
Sunday, Pierce has selected another lefty, Shane McCain. McCain has made five starts, eight relief appearances. He is 1-2 with a 4.27 earned run average.
The Cajuns have struggled some this season against left-handers, partially because their table-setter, Alex Fuselier and leading run-producer Jordan Porrier both hit lefthanded. This means the Cajuns' starting pitching had better be good this weekend.
Troy competes throughout their lineup. They're led by one of the league's best all-around players in shortstop Adam Bryant. Bryant (.337-5-43) is having another stellar season. He is one of five .300 hitters in the Troy lineup.
If you've been to Riddle-Pace Field, or if you've followed the Sun Belt, you know that Troy has a short right field porch. They've got a "monster" built to try to keep balls in the park, but reality is the fence is just 340 feet in the power alleys. Troy however, has hit only 27 home runs on the season while giving up 28.
Troy, like the Cajuns, won't make a lot of mistakes defensively. The Trojans have allowed only 23 unearned runs all season. And, like Tigue Moore Field, Riddle-Pace is all turf.
This is the final home series for the Trojans, who close with road trips to Monroe and Mobile.
If the Cajuns can win the series, they'll put themselves in great position for the final two series against Middle Tennessee and ULM, who have a combined 14-28 conference record.
But make no mistake about it, this weekend is going to be very, very tough.