Michael Strentz, Ragin’ Cajuns beat back Southeastern

LAFAYETTE — Michael Strentz had been mired in a season-long hitting slump, but Louisiana-Lafayette’s coaches continued to praise the junior catcher’s performance behind the plate and his handling of the Ragin’ Cajuns pitching staff.

Strentz’s hitting woes ended on Wednesday night, and he was also on the receiving end of two key relief performances from Riley Cooper and Seth Harrison as the Cajuns held on for a 10-8 victory over Southeastern Louisiana.

UL-Lafayette (41-6) took its second win over the Lions (27-19) in as many nights after a dramatic victory Tuesday in Hammond, and Strentz’s three-hit night was one of the reasons. The Comeaux product’s two-run homer in the fifth highlighted a four-run inning that gave the Cajuns a 9-4 lead at the time.

He also doubled in the third and singled in the seventh after going 0-for-19 in his last five games and 9-for-69 over his last 20 outings.

“It had been a while,” Strentz said. “I put all kinds of work in. Everyone was behind me and rooting for me, they know I’m not gonna go down without a fight.”

The same could be said for Cooper, who came on after Sam Roberson’s grand slam in the seventh had brought the Lions back within 10-8. The freshman retired six of the seven batters he faced, only allowing one walk and one ball out of the infield with two strikeouts.

Harrison — whose elbow injury and following Tommy John surgery had kept him off the mound and left him confined to outfield duties all season — made his first mound appearance of the season in the ninth inning and struck out three hitters around a Roberson single for his first save.

“That’s the Riley Cooper we signed ... we knew he had the ability to do that,” Cajuns associate head coach Anthony Babineaux said. “What he did tonight will be valuable to us down the line. It was good to see Harry (Harrison) back out there, we have to keep his pitch count down and can’t use him a lot, but when he’s there he can be a dominant-type pitcher.”

The Lions were down 10-4 before Andrew Godbold and Daniel Midyett drew no-out walks in the seventh around a Brett Hoffman single. Roberson, who finished with three of the Lions’ 12 hits, followed with his second homer of the year down the line in left field.

“The way we competed the last two days, we haven’t shown that a lot this year,” SLU coach Matt Riser said. “If we keep competing like that this weekend, we’ll be okay.”

The Cajuns drew first blood off second-time Lions starter Gabe Von Rosenberg on Harrison’s ground-ball RBI and Jace Conrad’s RBI single in the first, but SLU came back with three runs in the second off UL-Lafayette first-time starter Reagan Bazar. Roberson’s single, a walk to Kyle Cedotal and Kennon Menard’s double drove home one, and Jacob Williams’ ground ball and Jacob Sweard’s sacrifice fly made it 3-2.

The hosts took the lead for good, though, in the bottom of that inning when Strentz and Caleb Adams walked, Ryan Leonards singled Strentz home and Adams scored on a throwing error. Harrison followed with a sacrifice fly to score Leonards.

Hoffman’s RBI single scored Godbold in the fifth to cut the margin to 5-4, but singles by Blake Trahan and Chase Compton — whose ninth-inning homer provided the tying and winning runs in Tuesday’s game — brought home two runs in the bottom of the inning. Strentz then greeted reliever Jason Greenleaf with a towering shot to left field for his sixth homer of the year.

“Mike’s been carrying a lot of load on his back,” said Babineaux, who was in charge of the team for the third game with head coach Tony Robichaux still serving a four-game suspension. “Everyone knows he’s been in a slump, but the one thing he’s done is shore up his catching and his itch calling and he’s done a great job of keeping this pitching staff together. He’s had some good at-bats the last few games so we knew he was close.”