LAFAYETTE — Its bats muted for most of the game, the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team suddenly found itself with an opportunity to change the dynamics of its series with one swing.
But a dramatic ninth-inning rally fizzled when Greg Davis hit a lazy fly ball to center field to strand the tying run at third base and the winning run at second base in the Cajuns’ 4-3 loss to South Alabama on Saturday night at Moore Field. It was a fitting end in a game in which the Cajuns stranded 11 base runners.
For the second consecutive game, the Cajuns (30-19, 14-11 Sun Belt) got a great start out of a freshman pitcher only to see it go to waste as the offense went cold and the bullpen coughed up late runs, allowing South Alabama (34-17, 19-7) to take the series.
“(Evan) Guillory pitched a great game for us, gave us every opportunity to win,” coach Tony Robichaux said. “But again, when you can match people with pitching and defense, it comes down to timely hitting. They got the timely hit; we didn’t.”
With the loss, the Cajuns were mathematically eliminated from contention for the Sun Belt Conference regular-season title. They’ve lost two consecutive weekend series for the first time this season and have dropped four of their past five.
Freshman right-hander Evan Guillory turned in one of his better outings of the season, allowing just two runs in seven innings. He was efficient with his pitches and kept the Jaguars off the scoreboard for the first five innings. During one stretch, Guillory recorded six straight outs on just seven pitches, and he finished the game without issuing a walk.
“That’s huge when you can get the walks out of freshmen and you know they’re pounding the strike zone,” Robichaux said.
But, as it happened Friday, the Jaguars were able to match the Cajuns’ pitching.
The Cajuns had their opportunities early against Jaguars starter Austin Bembnowski, but they couldn’t find the clutch hit. Davis had a particularly tough night in that department.
The Cajuns ripped back-to-back two-out singles in the first inning, but Davis struck out looking to end the inning. There were runners on first and second again when Davis came to the plate in the third, but he flew out to second base.
The teams played to a scoreless tie through the first four and a half innings until Kyle Clement broke it with a chopper single up the middle, scoring Joe Robbins. But even in that inning, the Cajuns missed some chances.
Davis came to the plate again with runners on, but this time he reached on a hit by pitch to load the bases for teammate Nick Thurman. But Thurman suffered the same fate Davis did in the first inning, striking out on three pitches to leave the bases loaded.
The Jaguars had their answer in the next half-inning, when they finally started to get something going against Guillory.
Two-hole hitter Ben Gann ripped a one-out double — just the Jaguars’ third hit of the game — to start one of those connect-the-dot rallies the Jaguars have shown themselves capable of in the first two games of the series.
Gann’s double was followed by back-to-back singles, tying the score. The Cajuns needed to make a nice defensive play to foil a double steal attempt and limit the damage to one run.
The Jaguars added a run in the seventh to take the lead, but this time Davis was up to the task when the Cajuns needed a response.
With the bases loaded, Davis laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to score Clement. But the Cajuns’ inning ended when Stefan Trosclair tried to wheel around from second and score when South Alabama threw to first to nab Davis. Trosclair was thrown out for an inning-ending double play.
Again, South Alabama had an answer. Against reliever Will Bacon, the Jaguars tacked on two more runs on three hits, the go-ahead run coming on a swinging bunt that third baseman Brenn Conrad elected to let go, hoping it would roll foul. It clipped the third-base bag to stay in play.
Jaguars closer Ben Taylor (6-1) struck out three in 2.2 innings to earn the win.
With their hopes at winning the SBC regular-season title up in smoke, Robichaux hopes his team can use this stretch to fuel a late-season run, rather than letting it kill the season.
“What you want to try to do is not try to get caught in too much of a tailspin,” Robichaux said. “You’re playing good baseball. That’s what’s hard when you get into this: We’re playing good baseball; we’re just not getting the timely hit. So you’ve got to be careful.
“It’s like hydroplaning; you hit the brakes too fast or handle it the wrong way, and you start spinning out of control. We don’t know what we’re going through; we might have to go through this to win the tournament. I don’t know. But I know one thing: If you quit, you surely can’t get it done.”