LAFAYETTE — On a day when hits once again were hard to come by, the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team turned to small ball to take the day and the series against Appalachian State.
The Ragin’ Cajuns offense was held to one run on five hits through seven innings, but it manufactured the go-ahead run in the eighth before finally landing the big knock in a 4-1 win.
“What did them in right there was the short game,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said.
Kyle Clement led off the eighth with a sharp single back up the middle. Stefan Trosclair followed with a sacrifice bunt attempt that dribbled just out of the reach of the pitcher, allowing him to reach safely with a single. A sacrifice bunt by Brenn Conrad set the stage for the most dramatic play in baseball.
Joe Robbins, who hadn’t played since the third inning of Friday’s series opener, knew exactly what Robichaux would dial up when he called his number to pinch-hit for Alex Pinero.
With his sore left wrist wrapped in tape, Robbins wasn’t his usual power-hitting self. But he could still handle a bat and, with runners on second and third with one out, he knew the squeeze play was on.
“As soon as the situation popped up, he looked to me, and the whole team looked to me to get the bunt down,” Robbins said. “I had to get it down.”
He took the first pitch from right-hander Reed Howell (5-2) outside for a ball. Clement bolted for home on the delivery of the second pitch, and Robbins laid a bunt down in front of the plate on a suicide squeeze. Clement narrowly beat the tag, and the Cajuns (31-17, 16-8 Sun Belt) had their first lead of the day.
“I probably ran harder and faster than I normally would just by adrenaline,” Clement said. “A suicide squeeze is an adrenaline play.”
Then the Cajuns added some cushion. After Robbins stole second, Brad Antchak hammered a line drive past a drawn-in infield to bring home two more runs.
Antchak was only in the lineup because of Robbins’ injury. He had been struggling at the plate, going 3-for-22 in the seven games leading up to this series, but his teammates trusted him in the pressure situation.
“If you know him and his mentality, he’s a clutch hitter,” Clement said. “I had no doubt he was going to get it done right there.”
Dylan Moore (5-1), who entered in the eighth, worked around a two-out walk to preserve the win.
The way the game started, it certainly didn’t look like it was going to be tied at 1 in the last of the eighth.
Appalachian State’s Tyler Stroup got the game started with a bang when he took the second pitch from Cajuns starter Nick Lee over the wall for his fifth home run of the season. Lee said it was a mistake pitch that Stroup made him pay for.
“When you leave it down the middle in college, they hit home runs,” Lee said.
The Cajuns answered right away. Freshman infielder Hunter Kasuls nearly hit a leadoff home run of his own in the bottom of the first, clanging the ball off the top half of the wall in right field.
He motored around the bases for a triple, then came home to score on Brian Mills’ grounder to shortstop.
Both starters settled into a groove after that. Lee retired 12 straight Mountaineers (15-33, 9-18) after the leadoff home run and didn’t allow a runner past second base in the remainder of his outing. He finished with eight strikeouts on 89 pitches in seven innings.
“He beared down,” Robichaux said of the freshman right-hander. “He’s growing up. Our philosophy is, if they cut you, lose 1-0.”
Appalachian State left-hander Colin Schmid looked to be playing by the same philosophy. After giving up that run in the first, he held the Cajuns to four runners over the next 5.1 innings before giving way to Howell.
“They responded; that’s all that matters,” Robichaux said. “We lost a tough game (Saturday). We came back today and started off slow. But they stayed with it, stayed pitching, stayed playing defense until we could get it done.”
The Cajuns used the series win to pull a game closer to Sun Belt leader South Alabama (36-14, 19-5), which lost two of three this weekend to Georgia Southern. The Cajuns trail the Jaguars by three games, setting the stage for a key series next weekend in Mobile.
“The South Alabama series is really important, and what we did this weekend put us in contention to win a conference championship,” Clement said. “It’s going to be a fun weekend. We’re just going to try to go out and play loose, relaxed and get it done.”