Musings From a Weekend at “The Tigue” – From the Bird’s Nest
It's starting to get warmer.
And, that's a great time to be at the ballpark.
Louisiana defeated Western Kentucky 7-4 on Sunday to win the Sun Belt Conference series, two games to one. The Hilltoppers broke the Cajuns' 14 game winning streak in the first game of the Saturday doubleheader, 14-3, before the Cajuns won the nightcap, 10-9.
Over the weekend, I thought about a lot of things....
I hate that we won't be playing WESTERN KENTUCKY any more. There have been some great games between the two clubs. And, it's been even. In the last eighteen meetings, each team has won nine times.
I can say this about WKU baseball. They've had some really good coaches who are really good men. Joel Murrie, Chris Finwood and now, Matt Myers are all personable, have respected the game and loved to talk about the game. Stand up guys who run their program the right way. I got a chance to visit with Myers before game three and, like his two predecessors, was very candid about what he's seen on the field. (BTW, he said he thought the biggest improvement in this years' Cajuns team is the depth of their pitching staff. I agree.)
During the baseball season, TWITTER is a good thing. In other sports, things are moving much too quickly to do anything with that form of social media. But in baseball, it's different. I can do updates between innings and pitching changes. It isn't so much interaction as it is being able to follow other games at other sites and look at how many people follow during the game as well. During Saturday's doubleheader I was notified that former WKU pitcher Matt Ridings was a new follower. I mentioned it during the game and spoke of the pitching duel in 2010 when Ridings and Zach Osborne hooked up in one of the best pitched games I've ever seen. WKU won the game 2-1. Ridings got hurt at the end of the year and I was totally bummed. Classy kid. Really good pitcher. Tweeted me and said the "Tigue" was his favorite place to play. Ironically, an hour later I was notified Zach Osborne is now following me as well.
If there's a better umpire in this region than NELSON GRAHAM, you need to introduce me to him. "Onion" is from New Orleans and has umpired in many a post-season. Several years ago, he had to give up umpiring for a time because of a family tragedy, but eventually got back into it. He hasn't umpired in Omaha yet, but he's been in several super-regionals. I love the fact he's so approachable. The game is never about him. He's never argumentative or aggressive.
I love the reaction by some fans to the decision to move Friday's game and play a doubleheader on Saturday. I was of the opinion the weather system wouldn't get to Lafayette until later on Friday. I also know that coaches hate suspended games and weather delays because of the pitching situation. Coaches are always going to err on the side of caution, especially when lightning is in the forecast. There were a couple of folks who remarked on Saturday "we could have played last night." Yep. And Rob Perillo would be the most accurate weatherman in history if he could predict Friday's weather on Saturday like the few "experts" I ran into.
Not long ago, I got a text from my friend Melvin Trahan during a game. He said, "death, taxes and Jace Conrad. He reminded me of that after Conrad hit his grand slam home run yesterday. The transformation of Conrad has been interesting to watch. He's always been good defensively and has been tough to strike out. But he had always struck me as a kid who was going to hit around .280 in his career. That was until the end of last season, when Conrad started showing some power and hitting in the clutch. His walkoff against FIU last year in the conference tournament was a prime example. Now, he's one of the most feared hitters in the league and probably the Sun Belt's best in the clutch. He gets runners home from third with less than two out and leads the team in two-out RBI. No pitcher wants to see him with men on base. And, he's become the leader of this team. And, oh, by the way, he still hasn't made an error this year. After his home run on Saturday, Tyler Girouard said "Way to drive the train." Jace Conrad will now be referred to as "The Conductor."
Some people (actually a lot of them) look at baseball with a football mentality. I figured after the game one beatdown, there would be some who would suggest this team is overrated. There were a couple, but not as many as I thought. And, just for the record...no...changing Austin Robichaux' routine wasn't the cause. Some nights the other guys are better than you are. Sometimes your best pitchers have a bad day. Sometimes you leave a lot of runners on base. You know why? It's baseball. The best teams in the country will lose 11-15 games during the season. You can bank on that statistic like you can bank on Conrad coming through in the clutch.
As stated above, Tony Robichaux has as much, if not more pitching depth this year as he's ever had. Sunday Connor Toups made a statement that his name should be added to the list. The redshirt freshman threw 4.1 innings of relief against a very good hitting club, giving up just one run and notching his first career win. That gives Robichaux even more options, especially when it comes to situational pitching. Toups and Chris Griffitt, along with Ryan Wilson when he's not expended during the midweek games, will cause some matchup problems for the opposition.
Oh, wait...."The Conductor" has just been named the LSWA Hitter of the Week. Here at the mid-season point, Nic Wilson is the Sun Belt Player of the Year, as he leads the league in all three triple crown categories. But there's no question who the MVP is so far this year.
Seth Harrison continued his hot hitting, but the most exciting play involving him all weekend was in the field. Harrison, coming off ligament surgery in the off season, cut loose with a strong, accurate throw to gun down a runner at the plate in Sunday's finale. He was having to use the cutoff man in spring practice. The really good news is Harrison is pitching again, facing live hitters in practice. He might be back by the beginning of May and that will add ANOTHER arm to the arsenal.
Tony Robichaux won his 700th game as the Cajuns' head coach Sunday and I guarantee you he had no idea. When Robichaux says personal achievements don't mean anything to him, is isn't coachspeak. I'm betting he found out when Nick Domingue made the announcement right after the last out was made. My guess is he won't know when he hits the 1.000 mark for his career next season.
As I said earlier, I do follow other games in the Sun Belt during our broadcasts. And, every series had my attention this weekend. UT Arlington went to Mobile and swept South Alabama. The Mavericks were 1-5 in the league heading into that series. The Jaguars, picked second in the league, are really struggling to score runs.
ULM fired coach Jeff Schexnaider last week and named former UNO coach Bruce Peddie as the interim. Something must have clicked because the Warhawks, last in the league in batting, pitching and fielding, swept UALR at Warhawk Field. ULM is now 4-5 in the league and frankly, after the first weekend, I wondered whether they'd win four conference games all year.
I spoke with Arkansas State play by play man Matt Stoltz during the conference tournament. He said Coach Tommy Raffo told him he believed the Red Wolves would be better than people think. And despite losing Zach Maggio for the season...again...because of injury, Raffo so far looks to be a prophet. A-State and Texas State hooked up in a great series over the weekend, with the home team winning two of three in Jonesboro. That puts the Red Wolves just a game behind the Cajuns at 7-2. If this keeps up, that series in Jonesboro in early May could be really interesting.
Troy was really in a bind over the weekend. They had lost the first two games of the series to Georgia State in Atlanta and trailed the finale, 8-2, after five innings. But the Trojans got six runs in the sixth and won game three 13-9. The Trojans are up and down this year, but they'll give the Cajuns all they can handle this weekend at Riddle-Pace Field. After all, they always do. Tanner Hicks and Shane McCain give the Trojans a very good 1-2 pitching combination. This one will be fun.