UTA faces nation’s top baseball team in Louisiana-Lafayette

04/17/2014 9:47 PM

04/17/2014 11:23 PM

The class of the college baseball world is coming to Arlington this weekend.

Ranked No. 1 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 2 in other national polls, Louisiana-Lafayette brings its potent lineup into Clay Gould Ballpark for a three-game Sun Belt Conference series against UT Arlington. First pitch is at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

“These are the games where I don’t have to say anything,” coach Darin Thomas said. “These games speak for themselves.”

The numbers for Louisiana-Lafayette (34-4, 14-1 SBC) are as gaudy as you’d expect from the team with the most home runs in college baseball — a .327 team batting average, 46 homers, a .536 slugging percentage, 64 steals, 8.4 runs per game. The top three hitters in the Sun Belt are all Ragin’ Cajuns hitting above .360.

While the Cajuns have been consistently dominant, the Mavericks have been on a roller-coaster ride since the season began. They sputtered out of the gate, were swept in their Sun Belt opening series and dropped to 5-14. That’s when their offense got hot and powered them to an 11-4 run to get closer to .500. They’ve since dropped four of their last six, however.

Plagued by an inconsistent starting rotation, the Mavericks have been forced to outmuscle opposing teams in winning three straight weekend series.

It’s helped that they’ve faced the two worst pitching staffs in the Sun Belt the last two weekends, but the task is much taller against the Sun Belt’s best staff.

Louisiana-Lafayette’s 3.11 team ERA far outpaces second-place UALR’s 3.73 ERA, and they’ve got the Sun Belt’s best pitcher in Carson Baranik. Baranik is 8-0 with a 2.40 ERA in nine starts, holding opposing hitters to a .202 clip. For good measure, the Ragin’ Cajuns even have the best fielding percentage in the Sun Belt. The dominance is covered in all areas.

It’s not as if the Mavericks are incapable of pulling off an upset or two. While they’ve struggled to find consistency, they’ve defeated TCU and Baylor and lost one-run games to Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

They’re counting on a big performance from Brad Vachon on Friday night to set the tone, something he was brilliant at doing a year ago. He hasn’t done much of that this year, but if he can locate his fastball and set up his breaking stuff, he can frustrate the swing-and-miss-prone Ragin’ Cajuns.

“We need to get seven [innings] out of him,” Thomas said. “I expect him to break out of this mini-slump he’s in.”

Taking just one game this weekend would help UTA avoid falling too far from its tie for third place in the Sun Belt, but they’ll need to play big to put a dent into Louisiana-Lafayette’s 14-1 conference record.

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