HAMMOND — It wasn’t a dominating performance, but the University of Louisiana at Lafayette baseball team had an answer every time Southeastern Louisiana seemed poised to apply some pressure, which led to a dominant result.
The Cajuns (24-15) jumped out to an early lead, tacked on to it late in the game, and made the critical defensive plays at the critical times to breeze past Southeastern (30-12), 7-2 at Alumni Field. The Lions avoided becoming the Cajuns’ second shutout victim of the season with a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth.
The Cajuns made the most out of their 11 hits and turned three double plays, flipping the script from last week’s outcome, when their failure to make such plays resulted in a 5-3 loss at home to Southeastern.
“That’s how they beat us last time, we didn’t turn the double play,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said. “If we would’ve turned a double play, we win, but we didn’t. Tonight, we got them turned.”
But before those defensive plays would factor into the decision, the Cajuns had to accomplish the first of their goals for the game: Jump out to an early lead.
The Cajuns scored two runs in the first inning with some help from the Lions defense.
With runners on first and second and one out, Tyler Girouard hit a chopper to second base that looked like a good candidate for an inning-ending double play. But Southeastern second baseman Carson Crites didn’t charge the ball and was eaten up by a short hop, allowing Blake Trahan to wheel around and score.
The Cajuns tacked on another on Dylan Butler’s high chopper to third base, scoring Stefan Trosclair to give the Cajuns a 2-0 lead.
Cajuns starter Will Bacon (2-1) was uncharacteristically shaky with his command, walking three batters in three innings — something Robichaux later chalked up to a small strike zone — but he kept the Lions off the scoreboard thanks to some solid glove work both by himself and his teammates.
Bacon issued a leadoff walk in the first inning, but cleaned it up by somehow coming up with No. 2 hitter Julian Service’s liner to his gut. It surprised everybody — including Bacon, who reflexively caught it, and the runner, who was sprinting to second — and Bacon made an easy throw to first for the double play.
The Lions started the second inning off with a walk and a base hit, but when they tried to bunt the runners over, Bacon fielded it and threw out the lead runner at third base, then got out of the inning with two quick outs.
He found himself in trouble again the next inning, when the Lions picked up back-to-back two-out hits to put runners at second and third. This time, Bacon’s teammates had his back.
Brett Hoffman ripped one toward the line in left field that would have tied the game, but Brian Mills came streaking in and laid out for a diving catch to end the inning.
“He kind of dove and rolled, and I wasn’t sure if he caught it. But he came up with the ball,” Bacon said. “It was a great play.”
With the defense keeping the Lions off the board, the Cajuns added runs in the fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth innings, extending the lead and not allowing Southeastern to operate its offense the way it normally does.
“They didn’t hit-and-run one time, and they only bunted one time,” Robichaux said. “That’s not them, but we took them out of (their offense). That’s how you try to beat a team that way, you score early and then tack on to take them out of their game.”
Kyle Clement and Trahan did the lion’s share of the damage, combining for five hits and four RBIs from the top two spots of the order. Clement homered for the third consecutive game.
“It’s just consistency,” Clement said. “Just being in there every day, seeing pitches, it kind of got my eyes adjusted. I’m seeing the ball really well right now.”
The Cajuns will return home Wednesday to finish off their season series with Southern (13-18). Right-hander Eric Carter, who struck out 11 Jaguars in the Cajuns 14-1 win earlier this season, will get the start on the hill.