Scouting Report: UL Monroe – From the Bird’s Nest
The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns (46-7, 23-4 Sun Belt) wrap up the regular season this weekend against geographic rival UL Monroe (22-31, 11-16). The series will be at M. L. "Tigue" Moore Field this Thursday and Friday at 6pm and Saturday at 3pm. Thursday's game will be heard on ESPN1420, with Friday and Saturday games on 96.5 KPEL-FM.
The Warhawks started terribly this season, going 8-17 with a 1-5 record in the Sun Belt. The low point may have been the series with the Cajuns the first weekend of conference play as ULM was pummeled to the tune of 39-4 in the three game series. After 25 games, ULM Athletics Director Brian Wickstrom dismissed head coach Jeff Schexnaider and replaced him on an interim basis with assistant Bruce Peddie, former head coach at New Orleans.
Peddie was no stranger to tough situations. He replaced Tom Walter about the time UNO was transitioning out of Divison I. Then, when the Privateers decided to move back up, Peddie was forced to compete as a D-1 independent with a roster of Division II and III caliber players. UNO fired him just as the Privateers were joining the Southland Conference. He was hired by Scnexnaider after the ULM assistants left for McNeese State to work with Justin Hill, the ULM pitching coach who was named Cowboys' head coach.
Peddie lit a fire under a baseball team going nowhere. Under his tutelage, the Warhawks are 14-14, 10-11 in the Sun Belt. They have control over their destiny for qualifying for the Sun Belt tournament. That was good enough for Wickstrom, who took the interim tag off Peddie's title yesterday.
Here's a look at the Warhawks as they head to Lafayette for the regular season finale:
OFFENSE: This is where the Warhawks have improved the most. It doesn't show much in the team batting average, but they're a lot better. After averaging 2.6 runs in their first six league games, ULM is averaging over seven runs per game in the Sun Belt under Peddie. Their batting average in league is 10 points higher overall, their slugging percentage is 16 points higher. You get the message...
First baseman Keelin Rasch (.374-2-21) is putting up All-Conference numbers in league games and is slugging .570 in the Sun Belt. Outfielders Justin Stawychny and Dalton Herrington have hit eleven of their combined fifteen home runs since Sun Belt play began. Almost everyone on this club is hitting better under Peddie than they did in the first 25 games of the season. The Cajuns' pitching staff is not going to have a cakewalk in this one.
PITCHING: They've gotten somewhat better here, as well. Although ULM has a team ERA over 7.00 in league play, we have to remember they gave up 66 runs in their first six league games. They're still giving up a lot of runs, however, and Peddie has been mixing and matching as best he can. Eight different pitchers have started league games. Right hander Jared Dye will get his fourth Sun Belt start and fellow righty Alex Hermeling will get his ninth. The Warhawks are TBA for Saturday. But Peddie isn't afraid to do it by committee. Nine different pitchers have thrown more than 10 innings in the Sun Belt this season. Tyler Bray has combined for four wins and three saves in league play. And, Alex Dumaine is the Sun Belt Pitcher of the Week after notching wins last Saturday and Sunday against a good Georgia State team. This is not a great pitching staff by any means, but Peddie and his staff aren't afraid to use multiple pitchers just to get through nine innings.
DEFENSE: OK, there's no sugar coating this: Their defense is pretty brutal. This team has made a whopping 105 errors on the season and they've made more errors in league play (53) than the Cajuns have made in 53 games (45). They haven't been good at any infield position and their top two catchers have combined for 15 errors, nine passed balls and have thrown out fewer than 20 percent of baserunners. However, there may be a silver lining: Warhawks opponents have been nearly as bad defensively as they have. That leads me to believe the Warhawk Field playing surface might have a little to do with that. They might be better on turf. They'd better be.
OUTLOOK: I think Brian Wickstrom made a great decision in making Peddie the permanent guy, and I think he did it at the perfect time. Mathematically, it's possible the Warhawks could get swept and still get in the tournament. But, math aside, they've got an excellent chance if they can win just one game. The thing Peddie hasn't been able to turn around much is the road record (3-9) in Sun Belt play. But it's the Cajuns, it's a fight for survival and it's a chance to validate their AD's decision. The Cajuns will get ULM's very best shot this weekend.