Here are five newcomers to watch for Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns baseball

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Using lineups jam-packed with newcomers, the UL baseball team went to extra innings three times in a season opening weekend series at Tulane.

The Ragin’ Cajuns dropped their opener 3-2 in 10 innings Friday.

But they won 9-8 in 10 Saturday and 9-7 in 12 Sunday, when Kevin Fitzgerald – a transfer from San Joaquin Delta College in California – broke a 7-7 tie with a pinch-hit home run, Brennan Breaux added an RBI double and senior Jack Burk capped five relief innings with three straight flyball outs.

Here’s what to know about some of the key newcomers heading into the home opener against Louisiana Tech on Tuesday (6 p.m., ESPN+, KPEL 1420 AM ) at Russo Park:

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Hayden Durke a homegrown starter

Cajuns coach Matt Deggs is especially high on freshman pitcher Hayden Durke, the opening day starter.

“Hayden Durke is a cut above,” Deggs said. “He’s special.”

Durke pitched five shutout innings, allowing just one hit while walking two and striking out five. The 6-foot-3 righty was ranked by PerfectGame as the top prospect in Louisiana coming out of North Vermilion High.

“This kid is super-blessed. He’s poised. He’s got great compete about him,” Deggs said. “He can do everything we ask our guys on the bump to do.”

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Drake Osborn has plenty of experience

The Cajuns’ new starting catcher, Drake Osborn, is a product of Orange Grove (Texas) High, located about 35 miles northwest of Corpus Christi.

A graduate transfer from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Osborn had 89 starts and played 112 games for the Southland Conference program.

He went 4-for-6 with a homer, four RBIs and two runs scored Saturday.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi senior Drake Osborn, now UL's starting catcher, runs to first base during a 2020 game at Texas-Arlington.

CJ Willis opens with hot bat

Utility player CJ Willis, a left-handed hitter from Ruston High who was selected by Tampa Bay in the 39th round of the 2018 MLB Draft, didn’t play in Friday’s opener.

But the transfer from LSU opened at first base Saturday and went 3-for-4 with a double, a triple, one RBI and three runs scored. He started at first again Sunday, moved to second and went 2-for-6 with two runs scored and an RBI.

“I like CJ,” Deggs said. “He’s a competitive kid, he’s physical.

“He can do a lot of different things. … Super athlete. He loves to compete. I just think he needs an opportunity.”

Willis played five games for LSU last season and 24 including 11 starts in 2019.

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Tyler Robertson takes over in centerfield

Tyler Robertson was the  starting centerfielder in the opener. The speedy 6-4 transfer from Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, can cover some ground.

“He reminds me a lot of the kids we had in the ’13 and the ’14 group,” Deggs said with reference to gritty UL NCAA Tournament teams on which he was an assistant coach.

Robertson was an all-state pick at Saint James School in Montgomery, Alabama.

With Robertson in center, Breaux – UL’s starting centerfielder last season – started at first base on Opening Day, opened in left field Saturday and came off the bench Sunday.

Sam Riola assumes Hayden Cantrelle spot

Sam Riola, who hit .300 in the weekend series, is UL’s first new starting shortstop 2020 Milwaukee Brewers draft pick Hayden Cantrelle took over in 2018.

A product of Blaine High in Minnesota, Riola began his college career as a pitcher at Bethel University, an NCAA Division III program in his home state, and spent last season at Iowa Western Community College, where he hit .371.

Riola was in a preseason battle to start with Bobby Lada, who did not play in the series, Deggs said Monday, because of an illness.

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