MOBILE, Ala. — The Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team already has the Sun Belt Conference regular season championship.
The second-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns are all but officially set as a host for an NCAA regional and have a very strong résumé for earning a national seed.
But if you think the Sun Belt tournament is an afterthought for them, think again. UL-Lafayette came to Stanky Field to claim another title, and they’re one win from doing just that after a 4-3 victory against Texas State (30-28) on Saturday morning at Stanky Field.
The Cajuns (52-7) will play second-seeded UT-Arlington, which they beat two out of three in the regular season, in the finale at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“I told our players at the award ceremony when we got here Tuesday that when they’re done giving away everything on that table, there’s still going to be one trophy sitting out there,” UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux said. “They can’t give that one out until the end. We’re going to try and pick up the last piece of hardware on that table.”
The Cajuns haven’t won the Sun Belt tournament since 1998, though they have earned seven at-large NCAA tournament bids during the drought.
“I guess a lot of people think because we’ve made a lot of regionals and haven’t played well in the tournament that we don’t take the tournament seriously,” Robichaux said. “This team is a tougher team, and it’s grinding it out. I guess it’s important that we get that off our back.”
UL-Lafayette lost to Florida Atlantic 16-8 in the Sun Belt final at Moore Field last season.
“Last year’s loss lights a little fire underneath our butt,” said Cody Boutte, who improved to 8-0 with seven strong innings. “But we stay in the now and play for the next day. That’s what this team has gotten so great at. We play for the next day.”
Robichaux was noncommittal on his pitching plan for Sunday, but Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year Carson Baranik is an option after pitching a season-low 2.1 innings in the Cajuns’ 11-4 win against Texas State on Thursday.
Boutte took a four-hitter and a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth before Cody Perkins knocked Boutte’s 100th pitch into left field for a leadoff single.
Ryan Wilson relieved and got one out before hitting Cody Lovejoy. Garrett Mattage doubled in a run and Granger Studdard walked on a wild pitch. That cut the lead to 4-3 and left runners on the corners as Matt Plitt relieved.
Plitt, who wasn’t cleared to play on a sore ankle until pregame for the 9 a.m. start, threw one pitch and Austin O’Neal hit into a double play.
In the ninth, Plitt gave up a one-out double to Tanner Hill before Tyler Pearson flied to left. Hill tagged and was called safe at third on a close play that had several Cajuns taking a step toward an infield celebration.
“That was no big deal,” Plitt said. “I know the guy got closer to scoring, but we had two outs and I’ve got all these guys behind me who are going to lay their bodies on the line to make a play, so it didn’t worry me too much.”
He got Colby Targun to fly to left and the congratulations began in earnest.
“We haven’t been playing for seeding,” Robichaux said. “We have not been playing for the peripheral. We haven’t been talking about or looking at what’s the least we can do or what do we have to do. The big thing is this team has done a great job of just getting ready to play every day.”
Caleb Adams broke a scoreless tie for UL-Lafayette when he hit a solo home run off the scoreboard in left with one out in the second.
One out later Kyle Clement reached on second baseman Perkins’ two-base error and Michael Strentz reached on third baseman Hill’s error. Blake Trahan followed with a two-run triple to left-center for a 3-0 lead.
“When a team gives you something,” said Trahan, who tripled again later, “you always want to make sure you take advantage.”
The Bobcats cut the lead to 3-1 in the third when Perkins doubled, moved to third on a balk by Boutte and came home on a groundout by Lovejoy.
The Cajuns scored what proved to be the difference-maker in the sixth when Adams singled and Compton doubled him home.
“Great teams find a way to win even when they don’t have their best stuff,” Adams said, “and that’s what we’re striving to do — be great.”
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