MOBILE, Ala. — The Sun Belt Conference baseball tournament turned out the same way as the league’s regular season — with Louisiana-Lafayette as the champion.
The Ragin’ Cajuns followed their dominant regular season in which they finished first by seven games with their first Sun Belt tournament title since 1998. They finished an undefeated four-game run in the tournament with a 6-5 victory against No. 2 seed Texas-Arlington on Sunday afternoon at Stanky Field.
Second-ranked UL-Lafayette (53-7) will enter the NCAA tournament this week with the most wins in the country and the longest active winning streak (10 games) after ending the 10-game streak of the Mavericks (33-26).
“(Ending the conference title drought) means a lot,” said shortstop Blake Trahan, who was named Most Outstanding Player after breaking a 5-5 tie with a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh. “We can add this to our résumé.”
It’s a résumé that earned the Cajuns an NCAA regional host assignment Sunday night and could land them one of the eight national seeds when they’re handed out Monday morning.
Coach Tony Robichaux declined an opportunity to lobby for a national seed, saying, “I’m not a beggar.”
“I’ll say what I’ve said all year,” he added. “We’ve worked as hard as we could and done everything we could to win every game. We’ll leave it at the NCAA’s feet. Whatever comes up on that screen, we’ll go get it.”
This will be the Cajuns’ second time hosting a regional. The other came in 2000, the year they made their only College World Series appearance. They have never hosted a super regional.
As they had throughout the tourney, the Cajuns handled a variety of challenges Sunday. They broke a tie in the seventh inning, just as they did in the eighth inning of their win against Louisiana-Monroe to start the tourney Wednesday.
They went to their bullpen earlier than they would have preferred, just as they did Thursday when Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year Carson Baranik lasted just 2.1 innings in a win over Texas State.
On Sunday, they went to Chris Charpentier after Greg Milhorn yielded a first-inning run and back-to-back solo homers to Levi Scott and Eric Tate with one out in the second.
UTA starter Jess Amedee couldn’t finish the second inning, either. He got the first two outs, then sandwiched walks to Chase Compton and Michael Strentz around hitting Dylan Butler. Jacob Moreland relieved and walked Trahan, forcing in a run, then yielded a two-run single to Ryan Leonards.
The Cajuns knocked Moreland out in the third. Jace Conrad led off with a single, and Caleb Adams tripled him home. Chase Weaver (4-3) relieved, and Greg Davis hit a sacrifice fly that gave UL-Lafayette a 5-3 lead.
Charpentier didn’t let UTA score until the seventh. With one out, he allowed a single to Darien McLemore and a two-run homer to Ryan Bottger, tying the score at 5 as Martin Anderson relieved. After throwing a total of 75 pitches since March 2, Charpentier tossed 77 on Sunday.
Anderson (2-0) threw a scoreless two-thirds of an inning, Riley Cooper a scoreless one-third and Matt Plitt a scoreless inning before Seth Harrison came in from center field to get the final two outs for his second save.
“I’m glad with the way we did it,” Robichaux said. “It put pressure on our bullpen to pitch under duress. I like that. I don’t like our starters getting chased, but we needed to develop our bullpen guys and make sure they have confidence when they come in the game.”
The way it ended was redeeming for Harrison, who was yanked after one inning Thursday for swinging when he was supposed to be bunting.
“I just want my team to win,” he said. “For them to give me the chance to come in and close it out was an awesome experience.”
Now the Cajuns are about to embark on the experience they’ve looked forward to all year. UT-Arlington coach Darin Thomas was asked what he would say to the coach of a prospective opponent of UL-Lafayette in the NCAA tournament.
“I’d say, ‘Good luck,’ ” he answered. “They don’t panic. They can beat you a number of different ways. And when you’re ahead, you can take chances — and it seems like they’re always ahead.
“I don’t see a weakness. That’s a good team, and to win 53 out of 60 games shows it.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.