LAFAYETTE — Dylan Butler turned a close game into a comfortable cushion with one swing, and reliever Will Bacon smothered Troy’s bats for five standout innings of relief in the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team’s 6-2 victory Saturday that clinched its Sun Belt Conference-opening series.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (9-5, 2-0) scored five combined runs in the fifth and sixth innings to rally from a 2-1 deficit. And with the way Bacon was dealing out of the bullpen against the Trojans (7-7, 0-2), it might as well have been a 10-run lead.
It took the Cajuns a while to get to Troy starter Grant Bennett; he settled into a rhythm after allowing a first-inning run, retiring nine of the 10 hitters he faced in the second through fourth innings.
“That kid can pitch,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said.
But the Cajuns started getting to Bennett in the fifth, and they did it with small ball. Brian Mills’ safety squeeze bunt down the first-base line scored the tying run in the bottom of the fifth, and Brenn Conrad’s sacrifice fly to left put the Cajuns ahead 3-2.
Bennett stayed in the game to start the Cajuns’ sixth but was yanked after allowing a one-out double to Nick Thurman and a walk. The Trojans called on right-handed sophomore Marc Skinner out of the bullpen.
After inducing an infield fly for the second out, Skinner hung a 2-1 breaking ball to Butler, and Butler made him pay for it with a towering three-run homer off the left-field foul pole, putting the Cajuns ahead by four.
“That ball hung in there for a while, and I finally put a good swing on it,” Butler said. “I’m glad I did what I did and helped the team out.”
Butler has been scuffling at the plate. He entered the week hitting just .111, but he’s showing signs of turning it around with four hits in his past 10 at-bats, including the homer Saturday.
“We wanted somebody to try to deliver a big lift, and he was able to do it,” Robichaux said. “I’m glad; hopefully we’re getting him hot at the right time. We knew he’d be there. He’s a streaky hitter, and you ride him while he’s hot. Right now, he’s pretty hot.”
That was more than enough for Bacon, who fired five innings of scoreless, hitless relief after coming on for starter Greg Milhorn to start the fifth.
Robichaux didn’t think twice about sending Bacon out there to finish the game. He considers him a “double starter,” meaning he can throw a starter’s innings out of the bullpen if the actual starter doesn’t last long.
“I love him in that role, man,” Robichaux said. “He’s kind of a three-quarters sidewinder. … He can come in in the middle of a game and change the momentum.”
It wasn’t a perfect outing — Bacon walked three and hit another — but he had his slider working and used it to strike out six.
“That’s kind of my strikeout pitch,” Bacon said. “When I’ve got a guy with two strikes, I’ve got to finish him, and that’s the pitch I go to.”
The Cajuns and Trojans traded one-run innings in the early going, each of which were started by an extra-base hit.
Blake Trahan, coming off a 3-for-4 performance with two doubles and a home run in the series opener, sent a looping double into the left-field corner to start the Cajuns first, and he scored on a throwing error by Trojans shortstop Matt Sanders.
The Trojans answered in the top of the second when first baseman Trevin Hall yanked a ball into the left-field corner. Brian Mills misplayed the carom off the wall, allowing Hall to scoot into third base with a triple. He scored on Tyler Girouard’s throwing error.
The Cajuns have only used five pitchers in the first two games — which spanned 20 innings — and should have every pitcher at their disposal (with the exception of the two starters, Bacon and Colton Lee) when they go for the sweep Sunday.
“I think we’re sitting good,” Robichaux said of his staff.
The Cajuns will try to sweep the series and go for their sixth consecutive win, but Robichaux made sure to inform his players that their winning streak means nothing once they get between the lines Sunday.
“We’ve got to have a killer instinct,” Robichaux said. “We’re a ballclub that’s got to play all nine, and we sure aren’t a ballclub that can throw our hat out on a Sunday after two games against (Troy coach) Bobby Pierce’s team and think that’s going to be good enough.”