Ragin’ Cajuns lose lead, fall to South Alabama

Associated Press photo by TAMI WYNN -- South Alabama's Nick Zaharion walks back to the dugout after hitting a home run against Arkansas State earlier this season. On Saturday, Zaharion was 2-for-4 with an RBI as the Jaguars rallied to defeat Louisiana-Lafayette, 9-6.
Associated Press photo by TAMI WYNN -- South Alabama's Nick Zaharion walks back to the dugout after hitting a home run against Arkansas State earlier this season. On Saturday, Zaharion was 2-for-4 with an RBI as the Jaguars rallied to defeat Louisiana-Lafayette, 9-6.

LAFAYETTE — In a rivalry game, early leads are seldom safe, and Louisiana-Lafayette found that out the hard way here Saturday.

The Ragin’ Cajuns also found out that Anthony Izzio is still an effective pitching weapon for South Alabama, and the visiting Jaguars can also use the long ball.

An early six-run advantage evaporated thanks in great part to two USA home runs, and Izzio did the rest with seven sterling innings of relief pitching as the Jaguars rallied for a 9-6 victory in the opening game of their Sun Belt Conference series at M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field.

USA (38-13, 18-7) held onto first place in the Sun Belt standings with the comeback win, one that came after ULL had put up six runs in the second inning off starter Jarron Cito.

Izzio (1-0) came on in that inning, recorded the last out and proceeded to check ULL (34-16, 15-10) on four hits over the final seven innings before Dylan Stamey came in to record the final out.

“Anthony has been in the trenches before,” USA coach Mark Calvi said. “This hasn’t been a great season for him, but he never stopped working. If he comes in and looks panicked, the rest of our guys panic, but he showed the poise and composure that a senior should.”

Izzio was USA’s season-opening starter but struggled all season. He entered with no decisions and an 8.10 ERA in only 162⁄3 innings, after going 4-1 with 3.04 ERA last season. On Saturday, he allowed only two runners past first base.

“You’ve got to give the guy credit,” ULL coach Tony Robichaux said. “He slowed us down, and then he stopped us. We had big momentum working, and nothing was really going their way. He cut the faucet off on us, and we didn’t shut the faucet off on them.”

The Cajuns entered leading the nation in home runs (57) and had almost three times as many as the Jaguars (21) this year. But Nolan Earley laced a three-run homer in the sixth during a four-run uprising that cut the margin to 6-5, and a two-run shot by Dustin Dalken highlighted a four-run eighth that gave the Jaguars their first lead.

“They’re at the top of the league for a reason,” Robichaux said. “They’ve got seven seniors playing, and that’s a lot of veterans. The bottom line is, we gotta play nine innings and we didn’t. We have to sew ourselves up and go back at it tomorrow.”

The teams will play a 1 p.m. doubleheader today to wrap up the series, after Friday night’s opener was rained out.

The Cajuns scored the six second-inning runs on four hits and a USA error, with RBI singles by Dylan Butler, Dex Kjerstad, Seth Harrison and a two-run single by Caleb Adams providing ULL’s 16th inning scoring five or more runs this year.

That appeared to be enough for ULL starter Austin Robichaux, who allowed only four hits through five innings and a lone run in the fifth when Dalken’s single scored Earley after an opening double. Robichaux also got the first two batters in the sixth before a walk and a single set up Earley’s homer.

Reliever Ryan Wilson (3-4) gave up a leadoff single in the eighth before Dalken’s one-out homer made it 7-6, and Jeff DeBlieux’s two-out, two-run single off Matt Hicks provided insurance. The win was the fifth for USA this season after trailing through seven innings.

“If this was the first time we’d been behind, I would have been concerned,” Calvi said. “It looked like we didn’t show up until we got popped in the mouth a few times. But this team has a lot of poise.”