HOOVER, Ala. — Tony Robichaux’s 1,000th win wasn’t easy, but it will be memorable.
The Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team used a three-run rally in the seventh inning to take the lead, and reliever Colton Lee shut out No. 25 Alabama over the final three innings as the Ragin’ Cajuns held on for a 6-5 win to even the weekend series.
The Cajuns (5-5) had let an early 3-0 lead slip away when the Tide plated five runs in a frantic fifth inning but responded with Greg Davis, Tyler Girouard and catcher Nick Thurman stringing together back-to-back-to-back RBI hits in the seventh.
Lee scattered three hits over the final three innings, two of them coming in the ninth, but a throw-out at the plate provided a key second out, and Kyle Overstreet’s ground ball was handled by shortstop Blake Trahan for the out that made Robichaux the 17th active coach to reach 1,000 career victories.
Trahan and Thurman teamed up to give Robichaux a blind-side ice-bucket shower in front of the Cajuns dugout during the coach’s postgame interviews.
“We figured the Gatorade might stain, so we went with the water,” Thurman said. “It had more in it, and it was probably colder.”
Thurman played a key role, getting a career high four hits and plating Tyler Girouard from second base with a two-out single to right field for the go-ahead run.
“He’s on fire right now,” Robichaux said. “More importantly, he’s handling this young pitching staff really well. What he’s doing is what we thought we had, and now he’s getting his time to shine and he’s stepping up. That’s what these older guys need to do: step up and come to the forefront now that they’re everyday players.”
The win came on the heels of Alabama’s late-inning 6-4 victory in Friday’s series opener, and it looked like the Tide was poised for another late win when Mikey White singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning and Casey Hughston followed with his third straight double.
The relay throw from the outfield bounced away from second baseman Brenn Conrad and White tried to score from third, but third baseman Joe Robbins ran down the loose ball and threw to Thurman for a tag at the plate for the second out. Lee then coaxed the game-ending ground ball from Overstreet to wrap up Robichaux’s milestone win.
“It’s surreal,” said Lee, who tallied his third save. “I already told my mom that this feels like a dream. I just wanted to make sure that if he (Robichaux) gave me the ball, that I could do it for him.”
The Cajuns struck for three early runs off Alabama starter Will Carter, getting an unearned run in the second when Tyler Girouard walked and eventually scored when Bama center fielder Georgie Salem dropped a one-out fly ball. Conrad and Davis then had back-to-back leadoff doubles in the fourth, and Thurman followed one out later with another double that made it 3-0.
Cajun starter Greg Milhorn sailed through the first four innings, facing only two batters over the minimum and getting an outfield throw from Robbins that gunned down Will Haynie at the plate in the third to maintain the shutout.
But White laced a bases-clearing double with two outs in the fifth after Lafayette native Chance Vincent’s sacrifice fly scored J.C. Wilhite to make it 3-1. Hughston followed with another double that scored White for the 5-3 lead.
The Tide also threatened in the sixth off reliever Dylan Moore, but with two on Riley Cooper (2-0) came on to strike out Salem to end that inning. He got the win when the Cajuns scored the three seventh-inning runs.
“We had so many opportunities to fall back,” Robichaux said. “Once they answered back and broke us there, they could have finished us and they didn’t. We stayed with it. Even that last play, that was a pressure-filled situation and we were able to still make a good throw and make the tag, and then make a big pitch when it was time.
“They’re growing up ... we said it wasn’t going to be pretty and it hasn’t been, but so what if we’re a little scarred up and ugly, hopefully we just keep getting better and that’s what our goal is.”
Trahan singled with one out in that seventh inning and was forced at second on Conrad’s ground ball, but Davis lined his second double of the game in the right-field gap to score Conrad and make it a one-run game. Alabama brought on reliever Thomas Burrows (0-2), but Girouard greeted him with a single to the left side that tied the game, and after he moved up on the throw to the plate Thurman laced his career-high fourth hit to right field to score Girouard.
Lee had been victimized by Wilhite’s bloop single in Friday’s eighth inning that broke a 4-4 tie. On Saturday, he gave up a double to Hughston in the seventh and another Tide runner reached on an error in the eighth before the frenetic ninth inning.
The Cajuns missed on two opportunities to give Robichaux his 1000th win, losing a 17-inning affair to McNeese on Tuesday and Friday’s series opener.
“This was huge,” Thurman said. “We’ve all been saying when’s it gonna happen — ‘Are we going to sit back and wait for it to happen, or are we going to make it happen?’ ”
Robichaux diverted the recognition to others, naming every coach that ever served as an assistant in his 29-year head coaching career.
“All those wins don’t go on those guys’ records,” he said. “They go on mine, but they and all those players are the ones that deserve all the credit. Nothing like this would have ever happened without all of them.”