Ragin’ Cajuns stay hot in Sun Belt tournament

LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette right-hander Austin Robichaux gave up a triple to begin Friday afternoon’s game at the Sun Belt Conference baseball tournament, then a sacrifice fly to put the Ragin’ Cajuns in an early one-run hole.

He gave up very little else the rest of the day.

Robichaux recovered from the rocky start and cruised to a complete-game performance, leading No. 3 seed ULL to a 9-2 victory over second-seeded South Alabama in a winners-bracket game at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.

Robichaux threw 102 pitches, allowing only four hits and the one earned run.

“I have a lot of faith in my teammates, especially the way we’re hitting,” said Robichaux, the son of ULL coach Tony Robichaux. “So I knew just one run wasn’t going to beat us.”

The Sun Belt tournament has been hard on ULL baseball through the years, but the Cajuns left their home diamond Friday as one of only two teams in the field with an unblemished mark.

ULL (40-17) plays at 12:30 p.m. Saturday against the winner of Friday night’s Florida International-South Alabama elimination game.

Should the Cajuns win, they would advance straight to Sunday’s championship game. With a loss, they would return at 7:30 p.m. Saturday with one more shot at advancing.

ULL won its only Sun Belt tournament title back in 1998, and the Cajuns entered play Wednesday having lost seven straight games in Sun Belt tourney action.

“We’ve had a lot of good things here through my run, but the tournament has not been kind to us,” Tony Robichaux said. “We’re trying to kick that.”

The Cajuns took a big step in that direction when Jace Conrad connected for a walk-off homer Wednesday night against FIU to give ULL a come-from-behind, 9-6 win.

No such heroics were required Friday in a game the Cajuns led by four runs after three innings.

Austin Robichaux held South Alabama — with the Sun Belt’s second-best team batting average — off the scoreboard every inning from the second to the eighth.

It was just the kind of effort the coach’s son was looking for after giving up five runs against the Jaguars, lasting just 5.2 innings, when he faced them earlier this season.

And it was just what the Cajuns needed to rest their bullpen.

“His velocity differential was so good, it gave them trouble the whole ballgame,” Tony Robichaux said of his son’s performance. “When he throws his offspeed over for strikes, the hitter starts to see the ball harder than it is. They’ll start cheating to get to the fastball.”

Jeff DeBlieux’s triple to center on the second pitch of the game, followed by Bud Collura’s sacrifice fly on the game’s third pitch, was all the offense South Alabama could muster for eight innings.

The Jaguars finally scraped across an unearned run in the ninth when Jordan Patterson reached on a Conrad error and scored on Dustin Dalken’s two-out single to right.

Meanwhile, the ULL offense showed why it ranks among the most explosive in the nation.

Leadoff hitter Dex Kjerstad wasted no time getting the first-inning run back as he led off the bottom half with a homer to center. Later in the inning, Seth Harrison, who had reached on the walk, gave ULL a 2-1 lead when he scored from third on a double steal.

Caleb Adams made it 5-1 with a three-run homer in the third.

Four more ULL runs came across in the eighth, with an RBI double by Kjersad and a two-run single by Conrad doing most of the damage.

FAU 3, TROY 1: Tyler Rocklein blasted a two-run homer in the top of the 10th Friday morning, providing the winning margin for No. 3 seed Florida Atlantic in a game that began Thursday but was stopped beacuse of rain and lightning.

Hugh Adams, who allowed two hits in two innings, got the win.

Adams sent the game to extra innings when he caught a base runner for top-seeded Troy trying to steal second for the third out in the bottom of the ninth.

With the win, the Owls (37-20) advanced to face the winner of Friday night’s game between Troy and Arkansas State at 9 a.m. Saturday.