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Louisiana-Lafayette plays role of favorite at home

 

Matthew Stevens

 

STARKVILLE -- The top-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team has clear expectations.  

 

Immediately after seeing his school as the No. 6 overall seed and earn the chance to play host to its second regional, ULL coach Tony Robichaux set a goal for his team to reach the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.  

 

ULL, which moved into the top spot in this week's Baseball America rankings, earned a national seed for the first time in program history and an opportunity to play host to a regional for the first time since 2000. In that season, ULL earned the school's only trip to the College World Series. 

 

Fourteen years after that trip to Rosenblatt Stadium, ULL (53-7) feels it has the squad to go from its home ballpark of M.L. Tigue Moore Field to the epicenter of college baseball. 

 

"We've been wanting to go back every year," Robichaux said. "There's some teams that utter the word 'Omaha,' and there's some teams that believe they can really get there. This team believes they can get there. Will it be easy? No, it will not, but we have the style we need to get there." 

 

With 53 wins, the Ragin' Cajuns broke the Sun Belt Conference record for wins in a season set by South Florida in 1986. ULL had won 49 games three times previous to this season. 

 

ULL has relied on one of the nation's most potent offenses to have a record-breaking season. ULL is hitting .317, which is second in the country. The Ragin' Cajuns also are second in the country in doubles, home runs, and runs scored.  

 

"It wasn't like it was a surprise," said Cajuns junior second baseman Jace Conrad, the Sun Belt Conference's Player of the Year and an All-Sun Belt tournament pick after helping ULL win its first conference tournament title since 1998. "I told myself this morning not to get too pumped up. We expected to host, and we expected to be a top-eight seed." 

 

ULL piled up the gaudy offensive numbers in a ballpark with similar in dimensions to Dudy Noble Field in Starkville. In a four game stretch against LSU and Alabama from Feb. 25-March 2, ULL scored 18 runs thanks in part to 15 walks.  

 

ULL will open its regional tournament at 6 p.m. Friday against Southwest Athletic Conference tournament champion Jackson State (31-23). ULL defeated JSU 15-1 in a losers' bracket elimination game in the 2013 Baton Rouge (La.) Regional.  

 

Unlike its run in 2000, ULL likely will be the favorite in a region that also includes second-seeded Mississippi State (37-22) and third-seeded San Diego State (42-19). On Tuesday, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and Perfect Game named the Ragin' Cajuns, who are on a 10-game winning streak, the No. 1 team in their polls. 

 

Earlier this week, the Collegiate Baseball Hall of Fame named junior Carson Baranik (10-1, 3.30 ERA) and sophomore Blake Trahan to its pitcher of the Year and Brooks Wallace Award watch lists. 

 

"It's an honor and a privilege to have one of your players considered among the best at their position," Robichaux said. "Blake and Carson have worked hard to get to this point. ... They will tell you that they couldn't have gotten to this point without the other guys on the team." 

 

Baranik, a right-hander, has walked 22 and struck out 69 strikeouts in 92 2/3 innings. He also has two complete-game shutouts. Opponents are hitting .233 against him. 

 

Trahan is hitting .339 and has 42 RBIs. He has 77 hits (11 doubles and four home runs). His home run against Texas-Arlington was the game-winner in the Sun Belt Conference tournament final. 

 

The Brooks Wallace Award, sponsored by Mizuno, recognizes the nation's top shortstop. It will be presented during the National College Baseball Hall of Fame's Night of Champions with the Pitcher of the Year Award, sponsored by Diamond, on June 28 in Lubbock, Texas. 

 

Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.

 

 

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