Diamonds in the Rough

by Dan McDonald

Cajun coaches continue to do more with less - a lot less - than just about everybody.

Before the spring season fades into memories and the sports fan's thoughts inevitably turn to football, it's worth taking a moment to realize how special the 2013 season was for both the UL baseball and softball squads.

Regardless of the outcome of the NCAA's Baton Rouge Regional, the success of the Ragin' Cajun baseball team this season was shocking when compared to 12 months ago. That the program arose from the dead after two seasons of what head coach Tony Robichaux called unacceptable results brought joy back to Tigue Moore Field.

Photos by Brad Kemp /

Going into Regional play in Baton Rouge May 31, junior outfielder Dex Kjerstad's team-high batting average of .398 (.436 since March 19) was 11th in the country. He had 12 home runs, with 58 runs scored and 43 RBIs.

The success at the other end of the Reinhardt Drive athletic complex wasn't as surprising, since fans have come to expect excellence and deep NCAA runs from the Cajun softball program. That UL got within one run - twice - of a sixth trip to the Women's College World Series is still impressive, especially considering the coaching-staff turmoil of the season's first month.

Combined, the dual success reminds all Cajun fans that, as Mark Hudspeth so movingly reminded us over the last two years, it can happen here.

Check that. It is happening here.

Care to hazard a guess as to how many schools across the country had a softball team in a Super Regional and a baseball team in regional play? The answer would be eight - three from the SEC (Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M), two from the Pac-12 (Oregon and Arizona State), one each from the ACC (Florida State) and the Big 12 (Oklahoma), and that little ole school from Cajun country.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the lowest athletic budget of any of those other seven schools (Arizona State at $55.2 million) is still more than four times the Cajuns' operating budget. According to USA Today research, Alabama's $124.4 million in athletic revenue ranked third nationally in 2011-12, Florida's $123.5 million ranked fourth and Oklahoma's $104.3 million ranked ninth - each of them eight or more times larger than UL's $13.56 million in revenues from that season.

Want to know some schools that had more athletic revenue than UL for that year? Try Binghamton, Stephen F. Austin, Albany, Vermont and North Dakota State on for size. Buffalo and California-Davis each had twice as much athletic revenue as the Cajuns in 2011-12, so remember that when it comes time to make Ragin' Cajuns Athletic Foundation pledges.

The budgetary shortages are well documented, of course, and it's pointless to continue to beat that horse. The UL athletic administration, with the university's help, has made and continues to make remarkable progress with its numbers, but a level financial playing field remains only a dream.

UL sophomore pitcher Jordan Wallace won 32 games this season, a tie for fourth best in Ragin' Cajuns history. She struck out 382 batters, the second highest ever for the Cajuns.

The point that must be made is that Cajun coaches are doing more with less than just about anybody.
Hudspeth's football teams have 18 wins in two seasons and won back-to-back New Orleans Bowls. Only two other schools in the country have won the same bowl twice in the last two years: Alabama and Boise State.

UL's baseball team went 23-30 last year and didn't make the conference tournament. A year later, Robichaux's boys of spring have their first 40-win season since 2007 and may be the country's most dangerous lineup top-to-bottom (they had a nation-leading 72 home runs in the regular season, and went into NCAA play with all nine regulars hitting over .300). Only three other schools nationally had that big a total-win turnaround.

All the girls of spring did was make the NCAA Tournament field for the 23rd time in 24 years and for the 15th straight year, and advance to the Super Regional for the third time in four seasons; only 13 other schools in the country can say that. Michael Lotief's crew continues to be the school's most successful on the national stage, and the program also brought Yvette Girouard home. All in all, a pretty solid year.

Given time - and the right resources - Bob Marlin and Garry Brodhead are going to have similar success in men's and women's basketball. The recent announcement of a $115 million master plan to upgrade and modernize athletic facilities will do nothing but help everyone.

College athletics is like most other ventures. Success breeds success, and UL's spring seasons were just more examples. Ponder that over the summer while watching the mailbox for your football season tickets and getting your tailgating gear ready.