MOBILE, Ala. — Lightning struck not once or twice, but three times late Saturday night.
The first two times it benefited South Alabama in the form of unlikely home runs, given the pitcher, but the important one was the last one. That came in the form of a go-ahead solo home run, also unlikely, given the hitter, Kyle Clement, and made a winner out of Louisiana-Lafayette in an 11-inning, 5-4 Sun Belt Conference thriller at Eddie Stanky Field.
Clement led off the 11th against South Alabama right-hander Hunter Soleymani (4-3), who immediately fell behind Clement 2-0 when he couldn’t locate a pair of breaking balls.
Clement figured that meant a fastball was coming next. He guessed right.
“I was sitting on one pitch, and I got it and capitalized on it,” Clement said.
The home run was Clement’s second of the year, and first since April 3. During postgame interviews, his teammates were giving him grief for his lack of big flies, but Clement took it in stride.
“It’s been a while (since I hit a home run), but no better time to hit one,” Clement said.
The first two lightning strikes came on a pair of Jaguars home runs off Cajuns stud closer Dylan Moore (6-1) — the first two home runs Moore’d given up all season. But Clement’s shot gave Moore his third lead of the game to protect, and this time Moore was able to keep the Cajuns in front.
“Sooner or later, the odds are pretty good that he’s not going to blow three saves in one night,” said Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux.
With the win, the Cajuns (32-19, 17-9 SBC) remained in contention for the league’s regular-season title.
Freshman pitcher Nick Lee was nearly untouchable through the first six innings, but South Alabama finally got to him in the seventh, and that’s when things got really interesting.
Jaguars catcher Jared Barnes started the rally with a one-out double down the left field line, and he was chased home by the next batter, Ben Gann, who hammered a double of his own over Kennon Fontenot’s head in left field.
With the tying run now at second base, Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux did not hesitate to bring closer Dylan Moore into the game to stop the bleeding.
But instead, the vein burst. Pinch hitter Adam Wolfe took the second pitch he saw from Moore for a deep ride over the scoreboard in left field for a two-run home run that put the Jaguars (37-15, 20-6) ahead 3-2.
The homer snapped a string of 13 consecutive scoreless appearances for Moore, who hadn’t given up a run, earned or otherwise, since March 20.
But the Cajuns had the answer in the top half of the next inning. Fontenot cracked a double of his own to deep left field, then took third base on Hunter Kasuls’ ground ball to the right side.
With left-handed pinch hitter Steven Sensley at the plate, Fontenot got a good glimpse of what happened when Randy Bell’s offering squirted away from Barnes toward the third base line. Fontenot took off from third, and Barnes wild throw back to the plate got away from Bell, allowing Fontenot to score the tying run easily.
Fontenot delivered once again with a clutch bit of hitting in the 10th. After a leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt put the go-ahead run at second, Fontenot took a fastball from Shane McKinley the other way, scoring pinch runner Ishmael Edwards from second base.
With Moore on the mound, that lead felt comfortable. But South Alabama did something unbelievable again: Travis Swaggerty, who delivered the game-winning hit Friday night, drilled a one-out home run to tie the game again in the bottom of the 10th.
After Clement’s go-ahead home run in the top of the 11th, Robichaux stuck with Moore, and South Alabama nearly did it again.
Brendan Donovan crushed a ball to deep right field with two outs in the 11th, but the ball bounced midway up the wall and caromed back in toward the infield. Donovan cruised into third base with a two-out triple.
With a pair of pitchers ready in the bullpen, Robichaux went out to visit the mound and instill some confidence in his young closer.
“An old guy told me one time, if you’ve got a Cadillac in the garage, you ride it and you don’t leave it in the garage,” Robichaux said. “We’ve got a Cadillac. I went out there just to tell him, ‘You’re my guy, no matter what happens.’ ”
Moore walked Barnes on five pitches to bring up Gann, who grounded out to shortstop to finally end the game. Even that play wasn’t a gimme.
“Brad (Antchak) did a nice job,” Robichaux said. “That ball was kind of capped off the end of the bat. I’ve seen that ball misplayed from time-to-time, and he came in and did a great job.”
For all the drama of the late innings, the starting pitchers did their part keeping everyone’s heartbeats in check for the second straight day.
Lee kept the Jaguars off the scoreboard for the first six innings, taking advantage of the Jaguars’ aggressiveness to keep his pitch count low.
He needed only 10 pitches to get through the second, third and fourth innings, and he was at 76 pitches by the time he came out to start the seventh inning. Lee finished the night with six strikeouts against one walk in 6.1 innings.
The only damage the Cajuns were able to do to Bell came in the first inning thanks in part to an error by Jaguars shortstop Drew LaBounty, who booted a Stefan Trosclair grounder with two outs to set up a two-run double by Brenn Conrad.
But those would be the only two runs in the game for a long while, and it would be the last poor defensive play of the night by the Jaguars, who bailed Bell out with four fantastic diving plays in the field in a span of six batters.
Robichaux said he would decide a starting pitcher for Sunday’s series finale after visiting with the coaching staff in the hotel Saturday night. The Jaguars will throw senior right-hander Austin Bembnowski.