Consensus All-American Jace Conrad drove the train in leading Ragin’ Cajuns to 101 wins in two-year span

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Jace Conrad

Nothing in the numbers suggested that Jace Conrad was going to become one of the premier players in the history of UL’s baseball program.

Even early in the second of what would be a three-year Ragin’ Cajun career, the Lafayette native’s batting average was hovering around the .250 mark even though UL was flourishing. The Cajuns, coming off a struggling 23-30 2012 campaign, were 17-3 through 20 games.

But Conrad hadn’t made a huge impact, and then-UL assistant and hitting coach Matt Deggs well remembers a conversation the two had early that season.

“I remember sitting with him one day … it was a tough talk,” said Deggs, now the Cajuns’ head coach. “I told him you can keep playing this way and you’ve got two or three more years left and it’ll be over, or you can be an All-American, it’s up to you.

“He sent me a text that night that I’ll never forget. It said coach, you’ll never have to say anything about that again to me. From that day on, he drove the train.”

The Cajuns went on to a 43-20 record that year along with an NCAA regional, and one year later compiled the nation’s best record and the best in school history. The 2014 squad went 58-10, hosted a regional and won it, and didn’t lose two games in a row until its own Super Regional when it fell to Ole Miss, one game short of the College World Series.

The catalyst of that success? Deggs said that’s easy, and not just because Jace Conrad had turned himself into the nation’s best second baseman and became UL’s first-ever consensus All-America pick by all five major A-A selections – ABCA/Rawlings, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, Louisville Slugger, Baseball America and Perfect Game. Those honors alone were enough to make him one of this year’s selections to the UL Athletic Hall of Fame.

“He went from a guy that played at his own pace at times, to a guy that played to his passion, because he loved the game,” Deggs said “He realized the right way to play the game, and he just took off when he decided that’s how he was going to play. He was going to be the guy that drove the train and was going to do whatever it took to win for his teammates. He set the tone in practice, in batting practice and he set the tone in games.”

Conrad became the unquestioned leader of what most consider the best offensive team in Cajun history, and easily one of the best overall with its national-best .853 winning percentage, a 26-4 mark in Sun Belt Conference play (including a 16-1 start). UL hit .317 in that 2014 season, tying its highest in the “new bat” era, and averaged over eight runs per game.

That year, Conrad was the Player of the Year both in the Sun Belt and in Louisiana, hitting .381 and leading the team with 96 hits, 20 doubles, 65 runs batted in, 149 total bases and 22 stolen bases. Several of those numbers still rank among UL’s all-time top-five for single-season offense.

Not bad for a player who didn’t even make all-conference in the previous year – although he did make the Sun Belt All-Tournament team in 2013 in helping the Cajuns reach the finals. It was part of a transformation that season for a hometown guy who had led the Lafayette team to the Little League World Series and his Lafayette High team to two straight Class 5A state championships before signing with his hometown university.

“From 2012 to the middle of 2013, he made as big a stride as you can make,” Deggs said. “He was just a grinder. He could run and he was physical, and his tools were good, not great. But he would out-compete you … his compete bone is as big as anybody I’ve ever seen. He willed himself through his work and willed himself to victory, and his teammates jumped on board.”

Conrad also led the 2013 team in stolen bases and topped the team in runs scored (31) in his freshman year when the squad struggled offensively. Over the next two seasons, UL won 101 games – the most successful back-to-back seasons in school history. The Cajuns went 124-50 in his three playing years before Conrad bypassed his senior year to play professionally, being drafted in the 13th round by the Tampa Bay Rays.

Four years later, he left pro baseball and returned to UL to finish his degree in 2018 – something that long-time UL coach Tony Robichaux urged him to do. He’d been a three-time Sun Belt academic honor roll pick during his career, and completed his degree one year before Robichaux’s untimely passing in 2019 and Deggs’ return as Cajun head coach.

“I walked in the middle of 2012 and I started looking for a common denominator,” Deggs said. “Jace was it. He is a natural-born winner, he just wins in whatever he does. He has the will to win more than anybody I’ve ever met, but along with that he’s probably the worst loser I’ve ever known. He just hated to lose, and once he started realizing his full potential that drove his passion even more.

“The old adage that hard work pays off, it’s true, man. When that hard work caught up to his compete and his passion, and he figured out truly how to go about his business, you saw what he could do.”

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