UL vs. LSU: Long story short

by john mikell

Photo by Brad Kemp

If you can believe a historian, the originator of the LSU/UL rivalry was Gov. Huey Long.

According to Glen Jeansonne: “[Long] saw education as a tool to manipulate, not an experience to nurture…Long thoroughly politicized higher education in Louisiana. His obsession with LSU created jealousy among other state colleges for which he did little.”

Fifty years later LSU fur was ruffled after Gov. Edwin Edwards encouraged the Board of Regents to allow USL supporters to “Kiss My ‘S’ Goodbye” and cheer for the University of Louisiana. Later legislation added the “at Lafayette” guaranteeing neither side could ever be satisfied. It seems Louisiana’s two most infamous governors created the state’s only meaningful college rivalry.

That figures.

And while you can find Tiger fans and Cajuns fans ready to argue anytime, anyplace over anything at all, the one subject they return to most often is baseball. The LSU and UL baseball programs share characteristics other successful programs envy: rabid fan support, winning traditions and superlative coaching.

Photo by Buddy Delahoussaye

Last year LSU finished first in the country in average attendance for the 19th straight year. UL finished 10th right above Alabama and Florida by averaging 3,671 a game, 84 less than capacity. UL needs a bigger boat. LSU has made 16 College World Series appearances and won six national championships. It entered this year’s postseason ranked No. 1.

UL has played in 11 NCAA Regionals, won four and made one College World Series appearance. The Cajuns entered the 2014 postseason ranked No. 1.

LSU coach Paul Maneri’s record after nine years at LSU is 406-158-3. His teams have won 1,270 games in his 33-year coaching career. UL coach Tony Robichaux’s teams have gone 774-490-1. In 29 years as a head coach, Robichaux’s teams have won 1,037 games.

Last year Cajuns baseball reached No. 1 in the country for the first time in any sport. They were an experienced, talented team, and 2014 was to be their year. Seven players were drafted, including Sun Belt Player of the Year Jace Conrad and Robichaux’s son Austin. The crowds at Tigue Moore were electric as the Cajuns overcame an opening game loss to No. 4 seed Jackson State to win the Regional. The following week UL hosted its first Super Regional and came up a heartbreaking game short to Ole Miss.

A historic year indeed.

LSU feels the same about the 2015 Tigers. They start seven draft-eligible players led by Alex Bregman, whom Skip Bertman calls “the best shortstop in LSU history.” The Tigers ran out of arms at the tail end of last year and ended with an ignominious collapse against Houston in the Baton Rouge Regional. They restocked their pitching staff and are led by a freshman, Alex Lange, the Most Outstanding Player of last week’s Regional.

UL also started freshmen in the Houston regional: two in three games. Then in the final game Robichaux handed the ball to 6’4” Dylan Moore, another freshman, who got his second save of the weekend and ended the season for the sleep-deprived Rice Owls.

Given UL’s personnel losses, 2015 could have been considered a rebuilding year. After the past two weeks that evaluation now seems long out of date. But as they limped into the Sun Belt Tournament at Troy with 5-5 record over their final 10 regular season games, the Cajuns looked less than threatening.

A disastrous collapse in the first tournament game with two outs and a three-run lead in the ninth seemed to close the deal and signal the end of the season for UL. Stefan Trosclair and Kyle Clement each committed a crucial error in the ninth. Clement recovered well enough to play himself on to the All-Tournament team, and Trosclair responded to his miscue with 13 RBIs, a game-winning grand slam in the tournament championship game, and won Most Outstanding Player. After their opening game loss, the Cajuns won five straight elimination games to win the tournament and an automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs.

The Cajuns’ late game heroics continued in the Houston Regional. A five-run ninth inning beat Rice 7-6 in the opening game. The winning run was driven in by a sacrifice fly. The following day a two-run ninth beat Houston 2-1. The winning run was scored when Tyler Girouard was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Reaching a Super Regional was as far as last year’s team advanced. These Cajuns still have a shot at Omaha because they find a way to keep playing — which means they find a way to keep winning.

As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

The Baton Rouge Super Regional opens Saturday night, providing the Cajuns with yet another opportunity to keep playing, and as long as they can, they will.

Look for two things to come out of Baton Rouge this weekend: a Louisianan team to be proud of in the College World Series and another memorable chapter in the rivalry Huey started.