MOBILE, Ala. — Evan Guillory had a feeling the text message was coming, so he wasn’t surprised when his phone beeped about 13 hours before the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team’s important rubber match against South Alabama on Sunday.
The message informed Guillory that he was going to be the starting pitcher. Guillory, who had thrown three innings in a midweek start four days earlier against Houston, repaid his coaches’ trust by setting the tone for the first four innings of what turned into a 6-3, series-clinching win.
With the win, the Ragin’ Cajuns (33-19, 18-9) kept alive their hopes for a Sun Belt Conference title, however slim they might be. Heading into the final weekend, the Cajuns need to win two more games than South Alabama (37-16, 20-7) to clinch the title.
After his team dropped the series’ first game, Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux was pleased to see it respond.
“If you can come back from losing in this business, you can keep playing,” he said.
For the third straight game, the Cajuns scratched a score across in the top of the first, but this time they scored a bunch of runs, and they barely needed to swing the bat.
South Alabama starter Austin Bembnowski (6-2) could not locate the strike zone in the first inning, and the Cajuns used it to their advantage. They loaded the bases for Brenn Conrad by sandwiching a walk between a pair of hit by pitches, and Conrad delivered with a slow-rolling, two-run single that sneaked past the glove of a diving Adam Wolfe at second base.
Bembnowski walked Joe Robbins to load the bases and followed that with a run-scoring walk to Kennon Fontenot. South Alabama coach Mark Calvi had seen enough, so he signaled for right-hander Avery Geyer, ending Bembnowski’s outing after one-third of an inning.
“All year long, we’ve been pitching in a 1-0 game or a 0-0 game,” Robichaux said. “We got a little bit of breathing room today.”
Geyer limited the Cajuns to a Nick Thurman sacrifice fly in the first and a Stefan Trosclair RBI double in the second that pushed the Cajuns’ lead to 5-0, but he was a steadying force for South Alabama after that.
Geyer, who entered the game having pitched just 7.2 innings this season, worked a career-high 5.1 innings and kept the Cajuns off the scoreboard until he was lifted in favor of lefty Thomas Huston in the sixth.
Geyer gave South Alabama a chance to make up some ground, but the Jaguars couldn’t find much footing against Cajuns pitchers Guillory and Hogan Harris (2-0).
Guillory was mostly outstanding, lasting into the fifth. He retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced, only allowing three balls to reach the outfield.
He threw just 41 pitches through the first four innings, but South Alabama finally started to get to him in the fifth. Guillory gave up three hits and a walk to start the inning, bringing home the first South Alabama run to make it 5-1. He struck out No. 9 hitter Wolfe with the bases loaded before giving up the ball to Harris with the left-handed-heavy top of the order coming up.
“I wasn’t on a pitch count; I just got into trouble in the fifth inning,” Guillory said. “(Robichaux) just changed the looks up, put a lefty on a lefty, and Hogan did a great job.”
Harris said he didn’t think about the tenuous situation he found himself in and instead focused on hitting Thurman’s glove. It paid off: The freshman picked up a strikeout and a ground ball to end the inning.
South Alabama had one more rally left, loading the bases again in the eighth to bring the tying run to the plate, but Jevin Huval limited the damage to two runs on a wild pitch and an RBI groundout.
“When they can get adrenaline going like Friday night, they can get going,” Robichaux said. “We were able to keep the adrenaline down by minimizing damage.”
The Cajuns got one of those runs back in the top of the ninth on Steven Sensley’s pinch-hit RBI double, then senior right-hander Eric Carter slammed the door by striking out the side for his third save.
It was a nice bounce-back effort for Carter, who was saddled with the loss Friday night.
“After (Friday’s) game, I was pretty frustrated with myself,” he said. “I knew what my mistakes were. I went and ran on the treadmill, worked out, got some of my frustration out and kept telling myself that the past is the past and moved on.”
The Cajuns will play their final midweek contest Tuesday at UNO before closing the regular season with a three-game home series against Louisiana-Monroe. South Alabama travels to Troy for the season’s final weekend.