Deggs hopes his Cajuns can pick up where they left off
He wants each of his seniors — starting outfielders Brennan Breaux and Gavin Bourgeois, and pitchers Brandon Young, Austin Bradford and Jack Burk — to return in 2021, if the Major League Baseball Draft does not take them away.
That’s the sentiment from UL baseball coach Matt Deggs in the aftermath of Monday’s ruling from the NCAA that all spring sports athletes will be granted another year of eligibility because their 2020 season was cut short by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Obviously that ball is in their court,” Deggs, who was in favor of everyone getting an extra year, said in a telephone interview Thursday. “But the door is wide open to come back.
“Every senior we had, all five of them, were really good players, and even better young men.
“So, they’re a positive influence. They’re a great example on how to go about your business every day, and what this program stands for,” Deggs added. “I would certainly hope that they would come back.”
Deggs said he’s spoken to all five.
“We’ve had really good conversations,” he said, “and I would bank on all of them — if not all of them, close to all of them — coming back.”
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ON A ROLL
That’s the good news for Deggs at the tail end of a three-week span that mostly has been a blur of disbelief.
When the season was about to end ever so abruptly, the first thing the first-year Ragin’ Cajuns head coach thought about was what was right around the corner.
A series against Coastal Carolina that was to have opened the next night, and that was to have marked the start of Sun Belt Conference play.
The way the Cajuns were starting to turn their season around.
The end of practice.
The season had just been suspended, and since then has been canceled altogether due to the coronavirus crisis, and Deggs was so locked in that he just wanted to complete the workout.
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“We were throwing batting practice. I was actually throwing,” Deggs said, recalling that mid-March Thursday. “And I could tell some stuff was going on.
“And we ended B.P. I just didn’t want to end prematurely. We had a great practice. We were fully ready and prepared to take on Coastal — a really good Coastal ballclub. But I felt like we were playing good baseball.”
The Cajuns had opened the 2020 season, their first since the passing last July of 25-year-long head coach Tony Robichaux, 2-8.
The team still was reeling from the loss of Robichaux, who died 10 days after suffering a heart attack.
On the same opening weekend a statue of Robichaux standing outside of M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park was unveiled, UL went 0-3 — losing first to Southeastern Louisiana, then a pair to Louisiana Tech.
Later in the same early stretch the Cajuns went 0-4, ending with a loss to Sam Houston State — Deggs’ old club — on the opening night of a three-game non-conference series.
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But UL was just starting to roll when it ended.
The bats had come alive, run production was much more consistent and voluminous.
The starting rotation was taking shape, with Young — who for a spell was working as a reliever — slated to be the Cajuns’ Friday-night starter for the start of Sun Belt play.
UL had won the last two of its series with Sam Houston, beaten Rice in a midweek road game in Houston, beaten Michigan State and Troy in the final two games of three at a tournament in Pensacola and beaten McNeese in Lake Charles when longtime associate coach Anthony Babineaux broke the news to Deggs on that March 12 off day.
The NCAA had suspended its remaining winter and all spring sports championships, including the College World Series.
The Sun Belt had not yet canceled the full regular season — it did so later on — but the series against Coastal Carolina at The Tigue clearly was not going to be played.
“I talked to Bab, looked at my phone and realized the NCAA had taken the steps that they had taken, and every conference was going to do on hiatus — some permanently (for the rest of the season), some were gonna take a month off,” said Deggs, who Cajuns won six of their last seven to finish 8-9.
“So I just told them, ‘Let’s clean up the field, go inside the clubhouse. Let’s visit.’ And I just spoke to them like men. Just kind of like a father-son talk.”
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How did they take it?
“Like grown men,” Deggs said.
“This group, they’ve handled everything. And it’s not just about this virus. You’ve got to remember: We’ve gone through a lot of ups and a lot of downs since June. And they’ve taken everything in stride. They handled it really well, I thought.”
AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
The Cajuns were rattled by the death of Robichaux, whose passing had been preceded early in June by that of Mastern M. “Saint” St. Julien Jr., the bus driver frequently behind the wheel for road trips by UL baseball and basketball teams.
When Deggs, a former Robichaux assistant, was hired to succeed his old boss, he took over a broken club facing an uncertain future.
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And now that future is even more uncertain.
Will all five seniors really return, or might one of them — Young is the likeliest — be lost to the June draft?
Which other players might he lose to the draft?
Starting shortstop Hayden Cantrelle? Pitcher Conor Angel? Slugger Ben Fitsgerald?
Will his team even be able to play ball in the fall, as it usually does to prepare for a season that starts in mid-February?
So many questions. So little way of knowing.
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All Deggs knows for sure is that he loved where his team was headed when, like all others across the country, it was stopped in its tracks.
“It’s been an incredibly trying nine months,” Deggs said in the days after the season was shut down.
“And I’m proud of where these boys are at, and I’m proud of where our team’s at.”
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Two-and-a-half weeks later, Deggs’ feelings hadn’t changed.
“I think we’ve got a chance to bring back a good ballclub … and I would really look for us to kind of pick up where we left off,” he said Thursday.
For now, and for who knows how much longer into the future, that’s all Deggs has to cling to.
That, and the fact that last practice was complete.