Cajuns squeeze out win over Sacred Heart

LAFAYETTE — A staple in the offensive arsenal for Louisiana-Lafayette’s baseball team — the late-game squeeze bunt — made its first appearance of the season here Sunday.

The result was a 4-3 victory and a series sweep over Sacred Heart, one that improved the Ragin’ Cajuns to 11-2 on the season.

Chase Compton, ULL’s leader in batting average and slugging percentage last year, dropped the squeeze in the bottom of the eighth inning with the score tied 3-3. That scored Nick Thurman with the winning run, one at bat after a Jace Conrad sacrifice bunt had moved Thurman to third base.

“We went ahead and did it because we had lefty (Compton) against lefty (Sacred Heart relief pitcher Jeff Stoddard),” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said. “Runs were at a premium all day long, and we had Hicks (closer Matt Hicks) ready to go.

“We didn’t want to stay tied and him have to throw multiple innings, so we went ahead and got that run in.”

That run capped a three-run rally in the eighth after Pioneer starter Kody Kerski and Stoddard combined to check the Cajuns on one run and five hits over the first seven innings. Before the rally, ULL’s only run was a second-inning sacrifice fly by Conrad that scored Michael Strentz for a 1-1 tie.

In that eighth, Seth Harrison led off with an infield single off Stoddard — extending his hitting streak to a team-high eight games— and Tyler Girouard’s triple pulled ULL within 3-2. Thurman followed with a sacrifice fly that Sacred Heart outfielder Billy McDonough mishandled, allowing Girouard to score the equalizer, and Thurman to advance to second with nobody out.

Conrad’s bunt moved Thurman to third before the season’s first squeeze bunt, and Hicks retired three in a row in the ninth for his fifth save of the season. That gave ULL the weekend sweep of the Pioneers (0-3) after 4-2 and 8-2 wins on Friday and Saturday.

“The good thing is we found several different ways to win,” Robichaux said of the weekend. “That’s sort of continuing what we did in the fall ... all the competing we did then, those lessons are starting to pay off.”

Ryan Wilson (1-1), who relieved ULL starter Austin Robichaux in the fifth inning, limited Sacred Heart to two hits over nearly four innings in earning his first Division I victory.

Sacred Heart took a 1-0 first-inning lead on John Murphy’s two-out single and stolen base and Dan Perez’ infield single. Two innings later, Murphy’s ground-rule double scored McDonough to make it 2-1, and the Pioneers took a two-run lead on another two-out rally in the sixth when Kenny Byram’s single scored Rocco Gondek after his two-out double.

Strentz’ second-inning run came after he reached base on a hit batsman. The sophomore catcher took a pitch off his left hand and was later pulled, and it was announced after the game that he had suffered a slight break in that hand. He is listed as day-to-day, but he is expected to be back for ULL’s first Sun Belt Conference series March 15-17 against UL-Monroe at Moore Field.

The Cajuns are scheduled to host UNO Tuesday at Moore Field, but because of mid-semester exams the Privateers may not be able to travel. A determination on that game status will be made today. Sacred Heart will travel to Baton Rouge Wednesday to play two games at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium, facing Stephen F. Austin at 1 p.m. and LSU at 6:30 p.m.