College Baseball Notes – The Cajuns are Ragin’
Pre-season prognosticators predicted that 2014 would be one of the best seasons in the history of the baseball program at the University of Louisiana – Lafayette, and the Ragin’ Cajuns have thus far been up the task. After a surprising opening day loss to Eastern Illinois, the Cajuns reeled off ten straight wins, including a victory at Alex Box against LSU on Tuesday, and two wins at home against #21 Alabama, before dropping the third game of the series to the Crimson Tide. The Cajuns have done this despite the fact that their vaunted offense, which led the NCAA in home runs last year, has been largely quiet. Instead, pitching has been the key, with Friday night starter Austin Robichaux and Saturday starter Carson Baranik forming a potent one-two punch. Robichaux threw a complete-game shutout against Alabama 2-0 on Friday night, striking out 11and defeating Crimson Tide ace Spencer Turnbull in the process. The Cajuns scored both of their runs on a squeeze play, a baseball rarity.
I saw Saturday’s game and came away very impressed by Louisiana’s starter Carson Baranik, who limited Alabama to three hits and no runs over seven and one third innings of work, retiring ten straight in one stretch. Baranik is 6’3’’ but appears taller as he stays very upright in his delivery, coming over the top with an effective three-pitch mix that includes a plus fastball at 91-93 and a biting slider. He drives both pitches down in the strike zone, consistently getting ground ball outs. Baranik pitched as a freshman at LSU, where some disciplinary issues caused him to transfer to Miami Dade Community College for his sophomore campaign. If Baranik continues to produce an ERA in the low one’s he will be rocketing up draft boards in June.
Blake Trahan is a sophomore shortstop for the Cajuns and is considered to be their best overall player by far. Unlike most college shortstops, Trahan is considered to be a virtual lock to stick at the position. He showed exceptional range and a strong arm on Saturday, and threw in three hits to lead the attack on offense. Currently, Trahan projects as a very high draft choice in 2015.
In other college action over the weekend, two heated rivalries headed the tab, with South Carolina going against Clemson and Miami (FL) against Florida State. The Tigers could easily have come away with two wins against South Carolina, blowing a 5th inning 6-1 lead on Friday as well as a 3-1 lead on Sunday that they coughed up one pitch away from victory. In between, South Carolina took care of the Tigers by a 10-2 margin on Saturday at Fluor Field in Greenville, home of the South Atlantic League Red Sox affiliate. I took in the lopsided Saturday game to keep an eye on Clemson starter Matthew Crownover. The lefty was throwing well but suffered a five-run 3rd inning when the Gamecocks strung together a few hits around a series of defensive miscues by the Tigers, a theme of the weekend. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks continued their dominance of the Tigers and, at 10-0, show no signs of ceding regional superiority to very good Clemson squad any time soon.
Florida State dropped the first game of their series to Miami on Friday in Tallahassee, but bounced back to win the series, blowing a 6-1 lead on Sunday before rallying with a six-run 6th inning to win the rubber game 13-6. Andrew Suarez continued his seesaw season by allowing six runs on seven hits in five innings of work. Miami’s freshman power duo Zack Collins and Willie Abreu did show some of the offensive skills that made them such top recruits. If the Hurricanes’ pitching comes around, there may not be as much of a gulf between these two programs by tournament time.