UL's Robichaux on Cantrelle: 'He plays the game slow'
Get old. Play slow.
For some, the two — sadly — come inevitably with time and are inextricably tied.
For a true freshman like new UL shortstop Hayden Cantrelle, both are aspirations — and ones he has come by quite quickly.
And that’s why Ragin’ Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux didn’t hesitate at all to invoke the name of a former UL shortstop now playing pro ball when talking about Cantrelle, who has stepped into a starting spot straight out of Teurlings Catholic High, shortly before the 2018 season got underway.
Blake Trahan, a Kinder High product who spent three years at UL, was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the third round of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft and spent last season playing in Florida for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos of the Double-A Southern League.
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“He (Trahan) played above his chronological age,” said Robichaux, whose 1-3 Cajuns play their ’18 home opener Friday night against Wright State of the Horizon League in the first outing of a three-game weekend series. “And the one thing Cantrelle’s been able to do is play above his age level.
“If you can get enough freshmen to what I call ‘play old’ — that’s what we need. It’s a hard thing to teach.
“Every player will tell you the same: That when they get in here in college baseball for the first time, the game is really, really fast. And it takes them some time to slow the game down,” Robichaux added as the preseason wound down. “But he (Cantrelle) has been able to come in and play the game slow from the get-go.”
It was something Cantrelle — whose father, Kevin Cantrelle, was an Academic All-American for the Cajuns while playing under Robichaux from 1995-98, and whose uncle, Lee Cantrelle, played at UL from 1991-94 — knew he had to do to get the opportunity he’s enjoying now.
“Coach Robe always talks about ‘the game speeds up the younger players,’ ” he said. “So, as a freshman, I find it very important that I slow the game down.
“For me, it’s just breathing in between pitches — you know, trying not to have the brain farts.
“So if I’m always thinking a pitch ahead,” he added, “there’s no scenario that’s going to be too big for me.”
Cantrelle had opportunities to play elsewhere in college after helping to lead Teurlings to the Class 4A state-title game as a sophomore in 2015, when Trahan was busy helping to guide the Cajuns to an NCAA Super Regional at LSU, and to state championships in both 2016 and ’17.
After hitting .400 batting with six homers, 33 RBI, 49 doubles and six triples and 18 stolen bases while winning 4A and Daily Advertiser All-Acadiana MVP honors as a senior, he also was selected by the New York Yankees in the 40th round — 1,202nd overall — of last year’s MLB Draft.
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But with family ties being what they are, and his childhood having been what it was, it was no shock whatsoever to see Cantrelle — who also played quarterback for Teurlings’ football team — land at UL.
“I had grown up a Lafayette boy,” he said, “and so it’s always been your dream.
“You come to all the weekend series when you can, and you take it all in. To finally be a part of it is truly a blessing.”
Cantrelle estimates that he used to go to about 20 Cajun games a season as a kid.
His father also has worked as color analyst on the television broadcast of UL games, so he got a close-up feel for the program that way.
“We got to come early for batting practice on the weekends,” Cantrelle said. “We’d go in the visitor’s dugout when he does pregame interviews. It was really neat.”
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Thanks to the technological genius of video cassette recorders, Cantrelle also developed an affinity for the Cajuns by watching some of his dad’s exploits for UL.
“When I was young, he had tapes,” Cantrelle said. “I was a baseball fanatic when I was younger.
“Probably around (age) 5 or 6 … he’d put in the videos.”
And the son would watch his father.
Something about seeing his old man homer for UL against LSU at The Box in Baton Rouge made him want to someday pick up a stick for the Cajuns too.
“There were a few other schools I thought about going to, and this happened to be the best opportunity,” he said. “It wasn’t a dead giveaway, but as time went on it became the perfect match.
“When I like 7-ish, I always wanted to be in vermilion and white. Going through middle school, you don’t know if you’re going to have the opportunity to play, if I’m gonna be fortunate enough to play, Division I baseball. But around my sophomore year things became a little bit clear.”
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The tipping point toward crystal, Cantrelle said, was “playing for the staff you’re playing for.”
That includes Robichaux first and foremost, and longtime right-hand man Anthony Babineaux, too.
“I had coaches in the past for my high school team who had been on this team,” he said, “and they told stories.”
Now Cantrelle is writing his own.
After hitting ninth in the order and going 0-for-3 with a couple strikeouts in UL’s season-opening win at then-No. 14 Texas last Friday night, Robichaux moved him up to the No. 2 spot one day later.
By Sunday of the series with the Longhorns, in a 2-1 UL win, he had his first hit and first RBI as a Cajun.
And in UL’s 5-2 loss at Southeastern Louisiana on Wednesday, Cantrelle delivered his first home run as a Cajun, a solo shot to left in the first.
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Cantrelle also took care of business in his field spot during the Texas series, picking up right where he left off during fall ball last semester.
“He got here, and he played the game slow from the first groundball he took in his first intrasquad game,” Robichaux said.
“He’s not perfect. Nobody was. B.T. (Trahan) wasn’t. But he played slow, and he played above his age.”
None of Cantrelle’s new Cajun teammates should be surprised by rapid development.
“He had a great fall,” said pitcher Colten Schmidt, who got the start against Southeastern Louisiana. “He brings the confidence, the intensity and the tempo to play DI baseball.”
That’s precisely what Robichaux was figuring when Trahan and other ex-Cajuns currently playing professionally were around UL’s practice earlier this semester to field some ground balls and show youngsters like Cantrelle how it’s done.
“Rookies want to play the game fast, and fast out here is bad,” Robichaux said. “When their body gets ahead of themselves, it’s over. They do things you would never have thought you’d see.”
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As Robichaux suggested, the ol’ saying about the need to hurry up and slow down couldn’t be more true — or appropriate — than it is in this instance.
“He (Cantrelle) came in having the game slow,” Robichaux said. “So I think that’s where his advantage (is).
“Will he never make an error, never make a mistake? No. But he plays the game slow.”
No. 20 UL (1-3) vs. WRIGHT STATE (0-3)
WHAT: Three-game college baseball weekend series
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park
TV/ONLINE: Cox Sports Television (CST) with Tommy Thrall and Ronnie Rantz on Friday night only;RaginCajuns.com with Dan McDonald on Saturday and Sunday only
RADIO: KPEL 96.5 FM
UL PITCHERS: sophomore RHP Jack Burk (0-1, 4.50 ERA) on Friday night, junior RPH Nick Lee (0-0, 1.80) on Saturday, TBA Sunday
CAJUN LEADERS: CF Gavin Bourqeois (2.67), DH O’Neal Lochridge (2 doubles), SS Hayden Cantrelle (2 RBI, 1 HR)