Less than two hours before the first game of the Baton Rouge Super Regional, American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. The 3-year-old colt won going wire-to-wire and will be honored as one of the greatest thoroughbreds who ever lived. But if American Pharoah had won coming from behind, racing fans would worship and adore him.
Silky Sullivan, the ultimate closer, won that way. Racing mostly in California in the late ’50s and ’60s he once came from 41 lengths behind to win by three lengths. Know to bettors as “Mr. Heart Attack,” he received birthday cards and Christmas greetings from adoring fans 20 years after his retirement.
Twenty years from today members of this year’s 2015 UL baseball team can expect Christmas greetings from someone who will still remember where he sat at the 2015 Sun Belt baseball tournament or how wet the Houston Regional was. Another old-timer might send the perfect birthday gift to a 45-year-old Tyler Girouard: a “Cardiac Cajuns” T-shirt, well-worn but clean. Like Silky Sullivan, this year’s team won the hearts of fans with its propensity to win coming from behind — its closer style.
The Cajuns started the season facing long odds. Seven players from last year’s dominating squad were drafted. The pitching staff relied on freshmen. The team clearly needed seasoning.
As the season started the wise guys’ suspicions were initially confirmed: the Cajuns were a year, maybe two, from returning to the NCAA’s. They fell further behind that modest expectation when they finished the regular season 5-5. And after a last inning collapse in the first game of the Sun Belt tournament, the finish line was clearly in view. Then the Cajuns started to close.
Willie Shoemaker who often rode Silky Sullivan said, “You just sit there and wait hoping you won’t have to wait too long because when he really gets going you have to be alert or he just might leave you behind — and you hold on for dear life.”
Cajun fans held on as UL won eight straight in the postseason, the first five elimination games, to claim the Sun Belt tournament championship and the Houston Regional. Included was a five-run ninth inning comeback against Rice consisting of three walks, two singles, a sacrifice fly and a wild pitch (on a strikeout) — the baseball equivalent of a 41-length come-from-behind win at the wire.
While no one knows why Silky Sullivan was a closer, the reasons for the Cajuns’ success are obvious: strong leadership from upperclassmen forged by last year’s successful run to the Super Regional, Sun Belt Player of the Year shortstop Blake Trahan, three talented freshmen pitchers poised enough to start, reliever Dylan Moore a freshman All-American, and jockey, er, coach Tony Robichaux.
After Saturday’s heart-wrenching 4-3 loss to LSU, another game where the Cajuns came from behind but this time only to fall just short, Robichaux was asked how his team could recover. “Well, you know, we’ve had this throughout the season with this group, and the big chance they have now is to show people who they really are, to keep coming, to come back.”
On Sunday a second consecutive late game rally was not enough, and a memorable season ended. Silky Sullivan won only half the races he started but he was loved, not for his wins but for how he competed.
The 2015 UL baseball team will remain the favorite of many Cajun fans for the same reason.