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From the Bird’s Nest: Road Trip: Monroe

What a way to end the season.

Not one trip to Monroe.  Two trips to Monroe.

What have I done in my life to deserve such a blessing?

Okay, so it’s not a trip I really look forward to.

West Monroe isn’t so bad.  The city of Monroe?  Well, let’s just say that even those that live there don’t have a lot of great things to say about it.

But there is some good news.

First, the four lane is completed from Pineville to Monroe on US 165.  You still have to slow down in a few towns, but the trip is now doable in under three hours.

And, we finally found a decent place to stay.  In the past, it’s been a Jameson Inn in West Monroe.  But Bab found a Courtyard by Marriott near the Pecanland Mall.  No more than ten minutes from the ball park.

On this trip, Monroe got a little better.

But it didn’t start that way.

Before I left, I went to get my oil changed.  And, found out I needed four new tires.

Now, my Sebring convertible has eighteen inch tires.  Those puppies aren’t cheap.

So, around $900 later, I got on the road.

I got to the hotel around 2:30 on Thursday.  Had time to take a few deep breaths and shower before heading to the ball park.

Now, as you may know, recently I wrote a blog about the Sun Belt Conference Softball Tournament and part of the blog had to do with the name game.

And, naturally the first thing out of ULM Sports Information Director Adam Prendergast’s mouth was “You want some cheese to go with your whine?”  He was joking.  I think.

ULM has done some remodeling of their press facility for the conference tournament and they did a good job overall.  Of course, no one who was in charge asked those who will use it what they needed.  (Note to Scott Farmer:  Don’t make that mistake when you do Tigue Moore Field.  I noticed Stevie P. didn’t get a call when you did Lamson Park.)  The windows they put in have too much space between them which cut down on their capacity, but overall it’s quite an improvement.

ULM also has a new video board atop their scoreboard.  It isn’t very big, but again, it’s an improvement over what they had, which was no video board at all.

After setting up, I went downstairs to record an interview with Robe.  But he was engrossed in conversation with ULM head coach Jeff Schexnaider.  Shake is a great guy.  And, he’s on the hot seat at ULM.  He has a year to go on his contract, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be coaching there next season.  After winning a conference regular season title in 2008, it’s kind of been downhill for the Warhawks since then.  This is the second straight year they fail to make the conference tournament.  But, in reality, will things get much better with a coaching change?  ULM is horribly underfunded in just about all sports, but especially so in non-revenue sports, of which baseball is one.  But that’s a decision they’ll have to make.

So I waited while they chatted.  Then ULM Athletics Director Bobby Staub decided he needed to chat with Robe for a few minutes.  When they were finished, I grabbed Robe for the interview just as I saw former coach Lou St. Amant head our way.  Coach Lou was going to have to wait.

It was back upstairs to get ready for pregame at 5:30.  But there was a treat in store.  Adam had informed us that we’d have Johnny’s Pizza in the press box for all three games.  Now, for those of you who haven’t hung around North Louisiana much, Johnny’s Pizza is a good thing.  A very good thing.

I like Warhawk Field.  When it was built it was one of the best facilities in the state.  And, it’s still a good one.  There are picnic areas down the left and right field foul areas.  The entire seating area is elevated, giving fans a good look.  And it makes for a good vantage point for a broadcast.  There are locker rooms attached to the dugouts.  They were horribly worn down, but, like the press box, they’ve been remodeled some for the tournament.

I was really concerned going into the series because the Cajuns would be without the services of Alex Fuselier.  Fuse is the catalyst of this team.  When he gets on base, the Cajuns usually win.  And, to top it off, we discovered that two pitchers were disciplined by Robe for missing curfew and wouldn’t be available for the weekend.  ULM would play with urgency, needing a sweep (and some help) to get into the tournament.

But the Cajuns took care of business Thursday night.  Mike Petello drove in three runs and Taylor Hubbell and Joey Satriano shut down the Warhawks on six hits in a 6-2 Cajuns win.  The loss meant ULM would host the tournament, but they wouldn’t play in it.  Been there.  Done that.  Burned the tee shirt.

It was graduation weekend for both ULM and area high schools and trying to get into a restaurant after Thursday’s game was quite a task.  There is an Applebee’s next door to the hotel.  I ordered something to go and ate back in my room rather than fight the masses trying to get into the restaurant.

Night games every night aren’t great when you’re the road team.  It means sitting around without much to do during the day, waiting to go to the ball park.  I had breakfast with Judge Michael Hill and his wife Brenda on Friday.  Mike is a huge baseball fan and makes just about every Cajuns’ game.  He’s got great stories about his days as an official and I’ve always been fascinated with law and the courtroom and have gotten some insight from him there as well.  Mike’s dad, incidentally, is Walter Hill, who did color with John Ferguson for many years on the LSU radio broadcasts.  Afterward, it was back to the hotel, where I did some work (and had a nap) before heading back to the ball park for Friday’s game.

As I expected, ULM didn’t have much life on Friday.  The Cajuns pounded out 19 hits, with four each from Petello and Jordan Poirrier in and 11-1 Cajuns win.  Ryland Parker got his first conference start and carried a no-hitter into the sixth.  But Parker wasn’t feeling well and after giving up a leadoff single in the sixth, Robe turned to Randall Bulliard.  The senior gave up a couple of hits in the sixth, but got the last eleven outs in succession and the Cajuns’s staff finished with a three hitter.

ULM OF Les Aulds

We had to check out of the hotel by 1:00 on Saturday and that meant killing time at the mall until around 3.  I couldn’t take it any longer and got to the park really early.  Les Aulds was kind enough to pose for a picture so I could show you the Warhawks’ home unis, which I think are the best looking in the league.  (For the record, the Cajuns’ sleeveless grey unis are my favorite road threads.)

It being ULM’s final game of the season, and Senior night, I figured that ULM would play the Cajuns tough, and they did.  Petello hit a two run homer in the first for a 2-0 lead, but Drew Granier came out of the bullpen.  Granier carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning in the game in Lafayette and he stymied the Cajuns again.  ULM tied the game in the sixth, getting one run on a homer by Joey Rapp.  By the time Chase Compton singled in the seventh inning, the Cajuns were 1-39 in two games against Granier.  But Chris Sinclair followed Compton’s single with one of his own and the Cajuns had a 3-2 lead.

But a rare two-out error gave ULM life in the bottom of the inning and they got a two-out bases loaded single to take a 4-3 lead and that’s the way it ended.  The Cajuns, after getting 27 hits in the first two games, got just four on Saturday.  The loss didn’t hurt the Cajuns’ seeding for the tournament.  They already knew they were #3.  But it pretty much put an end to their at-large NCAA hopes which were already fleeting.

By the time I packed up equipment and got on the road it was around 9:00.  I was home before midnight.

It was great to have a day off on Sunday.  But it’s back to Monroe on Tuesday for more fun in Funroe.

But hey, maybe they’ll have Johnny’s Pizza at the park again.

Babes

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