Cajuns roll despite Baranik struggles

MOBILE, Ala. — The best pitcher in the Sun Belt Conference was off his game Thursday, but it didn’t matter because the best team in the conference was on its game.

Carson Baranik had his shortest outing of the season just two days after being named the conference’s pitcher of the year. His No. 2-ranked and top-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette teammates shook it off though in an 11-4 victory over Texas State in the Sun Belt tournament at Stanky Field.

Baranik gave up seven hits and four runs in 2.1 innings, but four relievers combined to throw 6.2 scoreless innings. The Ragin’ Cajuns used 16 hits — 15 singles and one double — a season-high eight stolen bases, and four errors and two wild pitches by the Bobcats to score in six of eight innings.

“We’re always there to pick up our pitchers and at the end they picked us up with a bunch of scoreless innings,” said third baseman Ryan Leonards, who joined Jace Conrad, Caleb Adams and Blake Trahan as Cajuns with three hits.

UL-Lafayette (51-7) earned a day off Friday with its second consecutive win in the tournament. The Cajuns play at 9 a.m. Saturday against the winner of an elimination game between fourth-seeded Texas State (29-26) and eighth-seeded Louisiana-Monroe (23-35) at 3 p.m. Friday.

Baranik’s only loss in 11 regular-season decisions came in his previous shortest outing, which also was against the Bobcats on April 26 at Moore Field. He lasted just 3.1 innings, allowing nine hits and six runs in a 10-3 loss.

On Thursday, Texas State took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on singles by Cory Geisler, Garrett Mattlage and Austin O’Neal.

The Cajuns answered in the bottom half with an RBI-single by Conrad, an RBI-double by Adams and an RBI-grounder by Greg Davis.

Baranik bounced back with a 1-2-3 second, but couldn’t get out of the third. Geisler and Ben McElroy started the inning with singles and Mattlage hit a three-run homer, his fifth of the season.

After getting a strikeout, Baranik yielded a walk and a double before Matt Hicks relieved.

“Carson was having trouble getting the ball down,” UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux said. “So we made the move to try and bring in people who could get the ball down around their knees.”

Hicks (7-1) got back-to-back strikeouts to strand the runners and start a 3.1-inning stint.

“Hicks really turned the momentum of the game around for us,” Robichaux said. “From that point on the bullpen did a great job of shutting the faucet off and never letting them get into a rhythm again.”

Riley Cooper relieved Hicks and pitched a scoreless two-thirds before allowing a single and double with one out in the seventh. Martin Anderson came in and got back-to-back strikeouts. “Those two strikeouts were a difference-maker,” Robichaux said.

Chris Griffitt finished with two scoreless innings as the bullpen allowed just four hits and one walk and struck out 10.

“It’s all about us holding them to let the hitters take over and put the momentum back on our side,” Hicks said.

UL-Lafayette took the lead for good in the third on RBI-singles by Adams and Davis and increased it to 7-4 on RBI-singles by Conrad and Chase Compton in the fifth.

Two singles, two wild pitches and a throwing error created two runs in the sixth. In the seventh Michael Strentz singled with two out, stole second and scored on Trahan’s single. The final run came in the eighth when Dylan Butler singled, stole second and continued home when second baseman Matt Smith missed the throw from the catcher.

That was the eighth stolen bases in nine tries. The Cajuns were aggressive on the bases from the start, stealing four bases in the first against starter Lucas Humpal (4-6).

“We knew from (the regular season) that (Humpal) would throw a lot of breaking balls so we just took advantage of that,” Adams said.

“We didn’t stop the run game,” Bobcats coach Ty Harrington said, “so that was a big part of it in creating offense.”

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