Cajuns advance to Sun Belt title game

LAFAYETTE — A sign near the entrance of M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field lists benchmarks met by Louisiana-Lafayette baseball through the years.

Given the program’s accomplishments include six Sun Belt Conference regular-season titles, two super regional appearances and one College World Series berth, it is hard not to notice the Ragin’ Cajuns have just one Sun Belt tournament title to their name.

That could all change Sunday afternoon.

Third-seeded ULL clinched a spot in its first Sun Belt tournament championship game since 2007 by eliminating No. 2 seed South Alabama on Saturday afternoon, needing only seven innings to finish a 12-2 run-rule victory.

The Cajuns (41-17) will face Florida Atlantic (38-20) at 1 p.m. Sunday in the tournament title game.

ULL won its only Sun Belt tournament title in 1998.

“We want to finish it for our fans instead of coming in here and getting close. Close is not fun,” said coach Tony Robichaux, who is 634-439-1 in 19 seasons at ULL. “We’ve got a lot of momentum. We haven’t really won anything yet.”

It appeared ULL’s tournament struggles may continue Wednesday night before the Cajuns rallied from four runs down to knock off Florida International. Jace Conrad’s game-winning three-run homer capped the 9-6 win.

In the two games since, ULL has rolled.

The Cajuns beat South Alabama (42-18) by seven runs in a winners bracket game Friday afternoon, then raced to a 6-0 lead in the first four innings Saturday.

Ryan Wilson provided the second straight complete-game effort by a ULL starter, allowing four hits and two earned runs in seven innings. The only damage came when Nick Zaharion tripled home Jordan Patterson in the fourth and scored on a Nolan Earley groundout.

“Everything was working,” Wilson said.

The same could be said for a ULL offense that entered the week as the nation’s home run leader with 66.

The Cajuns have lit up the new scoreboard in left field at Moore Field in their three tournament games, piling up 30 runs on 38 hits, including four homers, 10 doubles and a triple.

Saturday, Seth Harrison struck for ULL’s 70th homer of the year, a two-run shot in the first inning to give the Cajuns an early 2-0 lead.

Leadoff hitter Dex Kjerstad, who entered the day with a team-best .386 average, went 3-for-4 with a standup triple.

But most impressive about Saturday’s offensive showing was what the Cajuns got from the 7-9 hitters in their lineup. Michael Strentz, Blake Trahan and Chase Compton combined to go 6-for-8 from those spots and scored seven times.

“We’ve struggled (traditionally) in the tournament,” Robichaux said. “We haven’t played well for some reason, and I don’t know why. But a lot of times we couldn’t hit enough. I thought we could get this thing done because this team can hit enough.”

In pitching his second complete game of the season, Wilson got some help from a defense that turned three double plays.

Now the Cajuns can turn to a bullpen that hasn’t pitched an inning since Wednedsay night and will be completely rested for Sunday’s title game.

Robichaux said sophomore left-hander Kody Smith (1-2, 5.15 ERA) will get the start. Smith pitched last year for Baton Rouge Community College.

“We’ve just got to relax,” Wilson said. “It’s the same game we’ve been playing all year.”

FAU 5, ARKANSAS STATE 4: No. 4 seed Florida Atlantic kept No. 8 seed Arkansas State from forcing an “if necessary” game later in the day, but the Owls had to stave off a ninth-inning rally Saturday morning that included a putout at home.

The Hilltoppers (28-31) had already struck for two runs in the ninth against Hugh Adams, the Sun Belt’s all-time saves leader, when Ryan Roberts singled to left with two runners on. But Geoff Jimenez gunned down Kevin Fitzpatrick at home to keep the tying run from scoring.

Adams then got the next two batters in order, allowing FAU to hang on for its 10th straight win.

Brandon Sanger, who went 3-for-4 with a solo homer, led an FAU offense that produced 10 hits. Fitzpatrick went 4-for-4 out of the WKU leadoff spot.

Jake Myers worked the first five innings for FAU to get his sixth win.