UL shortstop Cantrelle assumes new second-year role
He opened all 59 games in 2018 — one of just three Ragin’ Cajuns to do so — and did it as a true freshman in 2018.
Now in his second season as UL’s starting shortstop, chip-off-the-old-block Hayden Cantrelle has gone from wide-eyed youngster to a seasoned team leader.
“I’m older, and I’ve developed physically and mentally as an athlete,” Cantrelle. “I’ve seen more. Of course that helps. … I feel like I can anticipate some of the things are gonna happen.”
What the product of state championship-winning Teurlings Catholic High might not have been braced for this season, though, was the way teammates elevated his status among them.
More:UL's Robichaux reveals real reason Leger missed start
Coming out of fall ball, the shortstop — a 40th-round Major League Baseball Draft selection of the New York Yankees coming out of Teurlings — was picked by fellow Cajuns to be one of UL’s four team captains.
Pitcher Gunner Leger, catcher Handsome Monica and second baseman Hunter Kasuls, all seniors. They’re bridges between Coach Tony Robichaux and the rest of the Cajuns.
He’s also a bridge between young and old for the Cajuns, who play host this weekend to Maryland in a three-game non-conference series that opens Friday night on M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park.
“That’s probably one of the biggest honors I could even come to,” Cantrelle said, “given all the leaders and good leadership that’s in that locker room.
“You have guys like Gunner and Handsome and Kasuls and all of the seniors who have helped mold me as a player. I think that reflects more about them than me being such a leader.”
More:UL second baseman Kasuls has broken nose repaired
Robichaux, however, was not surprised one bit by Cantrelle’s inclusion.
“He’s no longer a freshman,” Robichaux said, “so he’s got the ability to lead more now, and he has. He’s done a great job of it.
“That’s huge, because he’s at shortstop.”
On the field, the preseason All-Sun Belt selection who hit .287 last season — third-highest average among all Cajun hitters — has been a bit slow to get going in 2019.
He uncharacteristically made two errors in a season-opening series with then-No. 16 Texas.
It took some time for his bat to come around, too.
But Cantrelle was 3-for-6 with one RBI and one run scored in 1-2 UL’s last two outings, both losses last weekend at Sam Houston State.
Related:UL drops two heartbreakers in doubleheader with Sam Houston State
More:Late-inning woes continue to plague Cajuns
That only raised his average on the season to .167 (4 for 24) with two doubles.
But it’s at least the start to a potential turnaround at the plate, where Cantrelle feels he’ll be much better over the long haul because of the experience he gained both last spring at UL and while playing in the summer for Falmouth of the highly regarded Cape Cod League.
Cantrelle hit only .174 in 86 at-bats over 32 regular-season games for Falmouth, but he finished 2.86 (4 for 14) in four playoff games.
Cantrelle — listed now by UL at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds — said he also put on some added weight because he got light at the end of a 34-25 campaign last season “and my body started to hurt a little bit.”
“So for me,” he said, “it was more about getting stronger in the weight room and busting my butt on that end, for sure.”
The leadership duties, meanwhile, fell right into place.
“Coming off this summer,” Cantrelle said “I’ve seen a lot of arms and a lot of good baseball.
“So I feel like I’m more prepared, and I kind of took on more of a leadership role on the team.”
He’s also taking cues in that regard from Robichaux, currently in his 25th season as head coach of the Cajuns.
More:Robichaux wants Cajuns to kill the bullpen 'monster' now
“Leadership isn’t always something that you have to speak on,” Cantrelle said. “A lot of times, it’s just doing.”
With that in mind he said “there is more of a focus on making sure I’m doing things right.”
“I wouldn’t expect to have it any another way,” Cantrelle said.
There’s another influence besides Robichaux and the Cajun seniors, though.
Cantrelle is following in the UL footsteps of his father Kevin Cantrelle, who also played for the Cajuns.
The All-Sun Belt outfielder, a career .317 hitter, played under Robichaux from the mid-to-late 1990s and later spent time as a Cajuns television baseball broadcast analyst.
“It’s been very nice,” Cantrelle said of having a father who played. “My dad has been a role model for me my entire life.
“He’s never forced me into playing sports, or playing baseball. But he was always the guy I could always ask questions, about anything. And he’s really taught me to become a man.
“You know,” Cantrelle added, “Coach Robe talks about becoming a man so often in this day and age — and I really (credit) that to my dad.”
More:UL preseason position breakdown
RAGIN’ CAJUNS BASEBALL
UL (1-6) vs. MARYLAND (5-2)
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park
RADIO: KPEL 96.5 FM with Jay Walker (play-by-play) and Brad Topham (color)
ONLINE: RaginCajuns.com with Dan McDonald
UL PITCHERS: Senior LHP Gunner Leger on Friday night, junior RHP Dalton Horton on Saturday, TBA Sunday
UL LEADERS: 2B Hunter Kasuls, .387; C Handsome Monica, .300, six RBI