NATCHITOCHES — Joe Robbins looked in the crowd at Northwestern State’s Brown-Stroud field and saw the Tioga baseball team — his alma mater — looking back at him.
“I just wanted to put on a show for them,” Robbins said.
It didn’t take long. Robbins clobbered Austin Tanner’s 0-1 pitch over wall in center field for a two-run home run in the top of the first inning — the big blow of a four-run first inning that powered UL-Lafayette to a 7-3 win against Northwestern on the road.
“It felt good to see a fastball,” Robbins said. “(Tanner) messed up and put two down the middle. I just took advantage of a good pitch. Dead-red fastball ... I took it dead-center.”
Robbins, who started in center field, finished the night with two hits and four RBIs for the Ragin’ Cajuns (2-2). It was the second time this season he’s driven in four runs in a single game.
Though Robbins hasn’t seen much of the field in his first two seasons — he was stuck behind other talented players and also recovering from Tommy John surgery — his early season production hasn’t surprised coach Tony Robichaux.
“He kept working while he was waiting,” Robichaux said. “The other day, my son said he swung by cutting through around midnight at the indoor facility and Joe was in there hitting. When you work while you wait, the game will pay you back.”
With Robbins providing the fireworks, freshman left-hander Gunner Leger did his best to keep Northwestern State (1-3) at bay.
In his first career start, Leger (1-0) allowed only five base runners in five solid innings, striking out four. Robichaux wasn’t anticipating the southpaw to be overwhelmed by making his first start.
“Gunner doesn’t pitch scared; he’ll go out there and compete,” Robichaux said. “And I think when they spotted him four, it let him settle in and go to work.”
Leger only found himself in trouble once, when he walked Demons second baseman Chase Daughdrill after an eight-pitch battle and allowed a two-out single up the middle to catcher Garrett Logan.
Demons shortstop Joel Atkinson then ripped a 2-2 pitch down the left-field line, easily scoring one run. But left fielder Dylan Butler hit Blake Trahan with a solid relay throw, and Trahan fired to third to nab Atkinson before he could leg out a triple.
The umpires ruled that Logan did not score from first before Atkinson was thrown out, and Demons coach Lane Burroughs was ejected after arguing the call.
The only other damage Leger allowed was when Daughdrill launched a solo home run in the fourth inning. Leger said he grooved a fastball after badly missing the strike zone on two previous breaking balls.
“When I was ahead (in the count) it was going well, and when I got behind is when I kind of struggled,” Leger said. “I’ve just got to stay ahead, throw strikes and let the defense work.”
The Cajuns tacked on two more runs in the fifth on a Robbins sacrifice fly and an Evan Powell single, and one more in the ninth on a Robbins single.
The bullpen had a nice outing after struggling on opening weekend, with right-handers Dylan Moore and Colton Lee holding the Demons to one run over the final four frames.
Lee relieved Moore in a pressure situation in the eighth inning, with one out and the tying run at the plate. But he didn’t allow a base runner and struck out a pair in 1.2 innings, earning his first save in a Cajuns uniform.
The pitching effort was encouraging to see for Robichaux, who said after the game that his starting rotation for this weekend’s series would be, in order of appearance, Evan Guillory, Chris Charpentier and Greg Milhorn.
“The hitters did a good enough job last weekend for us, we scored five runs in both games we lost,” Robichaux said. “Last year that was enough for us to win the ball game. We’ve got to pitch the score back down, get our ERA down.”