HOOVER, Ala. — Even with what coach Tony Robichaux called “self-inflicted wounds,” UL-Lafayette had things where they wanted them Friday afternoon against Alabama.
But with an inexperienced baseball team playing on the road against a Southeastern Conference opponent, the Ragin’ Cajuns needed one break ... and didn’t get it.
Instead, fortune smiled on Alabama’s J. C. Wilhite, whose off-balance two-strike swing resulted in a flare to right field, scoring the eventual winning run in the eighth inning as the Tide took a 6-4 win in the first game of a three-game series at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
Wilhite’s two-out blooper scored Mikey White to snap a 4-4 tie, and the Tide (7-2) got another run moments later on a pickoff-throw error to nullify an unlikely Cajuns comeback.
UL-Lafayette (4-5) had done nothing offensively against Alabama starter Taylor Guilbeau, a Zachary native, through six innings. The Cajuns trailed 4-0 before rallying with four straight hits and scoring four runs to tie the score in the seventh.
“We put ourselves in a position to win here,” Robichaux said. “We had put ourselves in position to win against McNeese on Tuesday, but we didn’t win. You’ve got to learn how to win and climb that last hurdle. Getting up to it’s one thing, but getting it done’s another.”
The Cajuns, who lost a marathon 17-inning 5-4 game to the Cowboys on Tuesday, and the Tide play the middle game of the three-game series at 2:05 p.m. Saturday and wrap up the weekend series at Hoover Met with a 1 p.m. Sunday game.
UL-Lafayette will again try to give Robichaux his 1,000th career victory. The Cajuns skipper enters Saturday’s game with a 999-650-1 record.
The Cajuns appeared to be headed to the ninth inning of a tie game after two strong relief innings by junior right-hander Will Bacon in the sixth and seventh. Georgie Salem led off the eighth with a double over Joe Robbins’ head in center field, but Salem was thrown out at third on White’s sacrifice bunt attempt, and Bacon fanned Casey Hughston for the second out.
Kyle Overstreet followed with a ground-ball single through the left side to put runners at first and second, and UL-Lafayette went to closer Colton Lee.
Lee, part of a bullpen that had given up only two earned runs in the last five games, quickly got ahead of Wilhite 0-2 and had the Bama left fielder fooled on a running fastball on the third pitch.
But Wilhite, who had pulled the bat back, lunged and made contact, the ball floating over first baseman Greg Davis’ head into right field and allowing White to score.
“We can’t defend the flare right there,” Robichaux said. “He (Lee) made a great pitch and the ball flared in on him. We put our best reliever against one of their better hitters and he got him 0-2. Sometimes you just can’t defend certain things.”
That run made it 5-4, and the Tide got an insurance run when Davis mishandled Lee’s pickoff attempt at first and Overstreet streaked home from third base.
Alabama’s other four runs all came in the third inning off freshman starter Evan Guillory when three hits, a walk, a wild pitch, a sacrifice bunt and a squeeze bunt that turned into a hit combined to give the Tide a 4-0 lead. Lafayette native Chance Vincent followed a leadoff walk with a base hit to center, and after a sacrifice, Haynie scored on a passed ball for a 1-0 lead.
Salem followed with a squeeze bunt that scored Vincent and then beat the throw to first, scoring moments later when White tripled to right-center. Hughston’s one-out ground ball scored White for the 4-0 lead.
“Two of those runs could have been taken off the board easily,” Robichaux said. “We got leadoff walks, they’re going to bunt and we don’t cover first base, we reach for a changeup and get a passed ball and a run comes in. Those are the things that end up being the difference when you’re not a team that’s going to score eight or nine a game.”
It didn’t appear that UL-Lafayette would ever get untracked against Guilbeau, who faced the minimum over the first four innings. The Cajuns didn’t have a hit until Tyler Girouard’s leadoff single in the fifth, but Davis’ one-out single sparked the seventh-inning rally.
Girouard, Robbins and Brenn Conrad all followed with singles, the latter two making it 4-2, and pinch hitter Brian Mills’ ground ball brought home Robbins with the third run. Moments later, Guilbeau uncorked a wild pitch to allow Conrad to score from third with the tying run.
Ray Castillo (1-0) came on to throw two perfect innings in relief to get the win, fanning three of the six he faced. Bacon (0-1) was saddled with the loss. Other than the third inning, Guillory allowed only one hit — that one wiped out by a double play — but walked three.
“That’s the thing a freshman has to get rid of, that leadoff walk,” Robichaux said. “I like our bullpen. We’re starting to get our pitchers to really pitch, and that’s what we really need. You’ve got to throw strikes in this ballpark. ... It’s a big park, and you don’t want to put runners on base. Their kid didn’t walk anybody early, and then we had some self-inflicted runs, and that was the difference.”