With conference play looming just days away, both Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette’s first priority was to keep arms fresh, forcing each team to lean on its bullpen.
The team with the deepest set of arms emerged on Wednesday night, as the No. 6 Ragin’ Cajuns (14-2) shut the Green Wave (9-6) out for the final six innings en route to a 7-4 win in front of 2,217 people at Turchin Stadium. It was UL-Lafayette’s first win over the in-state rival since 2009.
Six Cajuns pitchers appeared, five of whom largely strangled the Green Wave bats and stranded eight runners.
“We could have stuck with a bunch of guys longer but we knew we had to keep bringing guys in because we needed the arms,” Cajuns’ coach Tony Robichaux said. “Everyone did what we needed though and it’s a tough position but we made it work.”
For the first time this season, Tulane was able to play a home game at night, after weeks of moving game times because problems with its newly-installed lighting system.
The bulbs didn’t even have a chance to shine before the Cajuns jumped on top of Tulane starter Corey Merrill in top of the first inning. After retiring Michael Strentz on a grounder to shortstop on the game’s first pitch, UL-Lafayette put up a pair of runs when Blake Trahan singled and Seth Harrison was hit by a pitch before Tyler Girouard slapped a double down the left field line.
Tulane threatened to mount offense of its own in the second, loading the bases thanks to hits from Jake Rogers and Bowen Woodson, followed by a Barry Buchowksi walk. However, Stepehen Alemais’ grounder to the pitcher ended the threat and extended Tulane’s scoreless streak to 22 innings.
It didn’t last any longer. Just minutes after UL-Lafayette’s Caleb Adams launched a home run over the left field wall, extending the lead to 3-0, Tulane pieced together its long-awaited big inning.
As previously planned, the Cajuns pulled starter Cody Boutte in the third, and the Green Wave scored four runs off of a pair of relievers. Run-scoring singles by Andrew Garner and Garrett Deschamp preceded a two-run double down the left field line by Hunter Hope, boosting Tulane to a 4-3 advantage.
It didn’t last long.
Zach Flowers replaced Merrill and immediately found himself in trouble when first baseman Deschamp allowed a ground ball between his legs then allowed the Cajuns to tie the score on a throwing error two batters later. Strentz gave UL-Lafayette the lead by lacing a double down the left field line and Trahan added an insurance run by doing the same.
Then UL-Lafayette took the small-ball approach, staking itself to a 7-4 lead on the strength of a successful squeeze bunt by Jace Conrad in the fifth inning.
“Lafayette is as billed,” Tulane coach Rick Jones said. “They are an outstanding team, and they took advantage of everything they could take advantage of. The thing that impressed me about them was that they responded when we went ahead.”
From there, the Cajuns’ bullpen took control. Ryan Wilson and Ben Carter each retired six consecutive Green Wave hitters, as Tulane’s bats fell completely silent for four straight innings.
Tulane’s string of 15 retired batters came to a close when Hope hit a two-out single through the middle and Rogers poked a double into left field in the seventh, but Bowen Woodson’s ensuing strikeout ended what turned out to be the Green Wave’s final threat.
“The biggest thing was that when the momentum changed on us, Wilson was able to come back and hold them off,” Robichaux said. “We let the momentum get away from us in that one inning and it hurt us. Credit them for answering us, but then our guys came back and really answered that and our pitching did what it needed to from all the way down in the bullpen. So it was a good night.”