Cajuns rally late for 50th win

MOBILE, Ala. — Louisiana-Lafayette’s baseball team knew it faced a tough task in UL-Monroe pitcher Tyler Bray on Wednesday in the opening round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

That task got a lot easier when Bray finally had to leave the game after pitching seven strong innings, and the Ragin’ Cajuns more than took advantage in what eventually became a 7-3 victory over the eighth-seeded Warhawks.

The second-ranked and top-seeded Cajuns scored four runs in the eighth inning off the ULM bullpen after the sidearming Bray had stifled the nation’s top slugging team, and the late burst was more than enough to put UL-Lafayette (50-7) into Thursday’s winners bracket play.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to come back and play at 9 a.m.,” said Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux, whose squad will face Texas State at 4 p.m. in their second outing of the tournament. The hard-luck Warhawks, meanwhile, will face that turnaround game and will face Western Kentucky at 9 a.m. in the tournament’s first elimination game.

The Cajuns took their seventh win in as many meetings over ULM (22-35), but for the third time in the last four games it wasn’t easy. And UL-Lafayette knew it wouldn’t be, after Bray checked the Cajuns on five hits in more than seven innings in Saturday’s 14-inning 6-5 victory.

“He gave us a lot of slow stuff, so we knew it was going to be a fight,” said second baseman Jace Conrad, who scored the tying run in the sixth inning and then had one of the game-winners in the eighth after a pair of walks. “This was a great way for us to get to 50 wins, since that was one of the goals we’d set.”

Cajun starter Austin Robichaux allowed a pair of runs to the Warhawks in the first inning and then stymied ULM over the next six, giving up three hits after the first inning and striking out seven. Robichaux had not pitched in 10 days after missing the ULM series and not pitching on short rest, after a three-week bout with tendinitis earlier in the year.

“It usually takes me an inning or two to get in a groove,” he said. “Once I found it I was able to settle in.”

Ross Moore had the two-run single for ULM in the first inning that scored Keelin Rasch and Kodie Tidwell after an opening single and a walk, but after that Robichaux only allowed three hits the rest of the way. One was a big one, though, as Tidwell led off the sixth inning with a triple before Robichaux was able to coax two ground balls and a third-out strikeout of Chet Simoneaux.

“If Austin breaks there and we give up five or six,” Tony Robichaux said, “we’ve got to start swinging at a lot of pitches and he (Bray) may go the full nine.”

The Cajuns scored single runs in the third and fifth innings, both of them coming from little-used Kyle Clement. His leadoff single in the third set up Ryan Leonards’ sacrifice fly to make it 2-1, and Clement also had a leadoff single in the fifth and eventually scored on Seth Harrison’s ground ball to tie the game.

“What he did, that’s who we are,” Conrad said of Clement. “We have guys on the bench that could be starting for a lot of people.”

The Cajuns took the lead on Bray in the bottom of the sixth when Conrad drew a leadoff walk, stole second and went to third when Simoneaux’s throw went into center field. After a one-out intentional walk to Chase Compton, Michael Strentz followed with a sacrifice fly to center field.

However, ULM came back against Cajuns reliever Ryan Wilson when Cody Stone opened the eighth by reaching on an error and eventually scoring on Moore’s ground ball to tie the game. But the Warhawks finally had to go to the bullpen after Bray’s 97-pitch effort through seven innings, and it proved to be ULM’s undoing.

Tyler Girouard greeted reliever Alex Dumaine (3-6) with a single, and back-to-back walks to Conrad and Caleb Adams loaded the bases with nobody out. ULM went to reliever Josh Leone, and Compton lifted a sacrifice fly to center to score Girouard with the eventual winning run.

Strentz followed with a single up the middle that plated Conrad and Adams scored on a wild pitch moments later for the third run of the inning. Clement then squeezed in the final run with a bunt that scored Strentz.

Matt Plitt (2-0), who came on for Wilson and got the final out in the eighth, had a strikeout and two ground balls to pick up the victory and set up Thursday’s meeting with the Bobcats. Right-hander Carson Baranik (10-1, 2.99) will get the second-game start for the Cajuns, with Texas State’s starter undetermined for the Thursday game.

Texas State 4, Western Kentucky 3 (10 innings): Texas State scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to force extra innings, and Colby Targun’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 10th inning scored Granger Studdard with the winning run to put the Bobcats into the winner’s bracket.

TSU (29-26) trailed 3-0 entering the bottom of the ninth inning against WKU ace Justin Hageman, but an RBI single by Tyler Pearson, a bases-loaded walk to Tanner Hill and Cory Geiser’s sacrifice fly tied the game.

One inning later Studdard drew a one-out walk and moved up on Austin O’Neal’s single before Targun’s game-winner put the Bobcats into the winners’ bracket game against the Cajuns.

Troy 4, Arkansas State 3 (13 innings): The Trojans (25-30) led 3-0 after three innings before the Red Wolves rallied with one run in the seventh and two tying runs in the bottom of the ninth, and the teams battled through three scoreless innings before Garrett Pitts lifted a solo home run with one out in the top of the 13th for the winning margin.

That made a winner of relief pitcher Marc Skinner (6-1), who had given up the tying runs in the ninth but checked the Red Wolves on no hits the rest of the way.