UL-Lafayette crushes Southern in late innings to win 17-3

LAFAYETTE — The Southern Jaguars were right there with the nation’s top-ranked baseball team Wednesday night, until two season-long scenarios reared their heads in the closing innings.

Louisiana-Lafayette’s bats exploded, and Southern’s bullpen imploded.

The result was a 17-3 Ragin’ Cajuns win in a game that was tied at 3 at the seventh-inning stretch, with the visiting Jaguars primed to give their hosts their first defeat since March 2, when UL-Lafayette dropped a home game to Alabama.

The Cajuns (24-2) had struggled for six innings against freshman hurlers Conner Baumgardner and Jacob Polk, but back-to-back seven-run innings were more than enough for UL-Lafayette to continue its nation-leading 14-game winning streak.

“What happened is a carbon copy of what has happened to us all year in the seventh and eighth innings,” Southern coach Roger Cador after four relievers gave up 14 late runs. “Our bullpen has fallen apart. Our kids played really well for six innings and we had some chances, but we have to do something with the bullpen.”

The Jaguars (4-13), losers of four in a row and 13 of their last 15, had taken a 3-1 lead with a three-run third inning off Cajuns starter and former Parkview Baptist standout Ben Carter. RBI singles by Lance Jones, Macus Tomlin and Brian Rowry shocked the crowd of 3,361 on hand to see Collegiate Baseball magazine’s No. 1-ranked club.

After that, though, Carter retired the Jaguars in order in the fourth, and a delegation of six Cajuns pitchers threw five shutout innings. Southern only had two hits in the game other than the four it collected in the third inning. The other two hits came in the sixth when a double play ended a bases-loaded threat.

Chase Compton’s sacrifice fly had given the Cajuns a 1-0 lead in the second, and UL-Lafayette chipped away with single runs in the third and fourth on Jace Conrad’s sacrifice fly and Seth Harrison’s RBI single before Polk (0-1) ran out of gas in the seventh.

“If they hold us down for nine innings, you tip your hat to them and go home,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said. “With our guys, we just make sure that we play nine innings because they’re eventually going to make something happen.”

That happening came in the seventh when UL-Lafayette catcher Michael Strentz blooped reliever James Fontenot’s first pitch just inside the right-field line. His double scored Tyler Girouard and Caleb Adams, who had walked and singled to open the inning, and broke a 3-3 tie.

“I was trying to go the other way,” Strentz said. “I got jammed, but I’ll take it. We did what we had to do and jumped on them when we had the chance.”

Two batters later, Dylan Butler unloaded on a 1-0 pitch with a mammoth three-run homer to left. Suddenly it was an 8-3 game, and the Cajuns were on their way to improving to 10-0 against in-state teams.

Adams’ three-run triple highlighted the seven-run eighth, an inning in which Southern pitching gave up two walks and three hit batsmen. In all, the Jaguars walked 10, hit five and gave up 16 hits — 10 in the last four innings

“Baumgardner and Polk, they pitched well enough for us to win,” Cador said. “We had opportunities to bust things open offensively if we make the plays. We got the bases loaded and did nothing. But we were playing against a really good team ... UL is just very stingy.”

The Jaguars loaded the bases with one out in the sixth on D.J. Wallace’s double, Rowry’s single and a hit batsman. But Cajuns reliever Martin Anderson induced an inning-ending double-play grounder from Robinson Mateo.

One inning later, Sam May walked and eventually reached third with two outs, but Tomlin was called out on a close play at first to end the inning.

Nick Zaunbrecher gave up the two hits in the sixth, while Connor Toups, Anderson, Matt Hicks, Riley Cooper and Reagan Bazar didn’t allow a hit over the final three. Hicks (3-0) got the win after stranding May in the seventh and watching his teammates unload in the bottom of the inning.

“It’s not easy for those relief guys to go out there in a pressure situation when they haven’t seen a lot of action,” Robichaux said. “They kept coming in and doing what they’re supposed to do.”