HOUSTON — Kentucky came into the Shriners College Classic baseball tournament with a reputation as one of the nation’s best hitting teams.
The Wildcats showed why Sunday, taking advantage of a short-handed UL-Lafayette pitching staff and rolling to a 10-4 win over the Ragin’ Cajuns on the final day of the three-day, six-team tournament at Minute Maid Park.
The Cajuns (4-7) finished 1-2 in the tournament after falling to Mississippi State and beating Vanderbilt on the first two days. They could only watch as the eighth-ranked Wildcats (11-1) hammered out 16 hits. Twelve of those hits came in the final four innings, when Kentucky stormed back from a 3-2 sixth-inning deficit.
“We’re a little thin out of the bullpen on Sunday right now, and it showed,” said Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux, who used five pitchers in the final three innings behind starter Austin Perrin. “Austin did a good job early, but then we made too many mistakes. That’s a big hitting team, and we left some out over the plate and you can’t do that against a good hitting team.”
The Wildcats pushed across four runs in the sixth inning on four hits, including a leadoff homer from T. J. Collett that tied the game 3-3. Three more hits followed, including doubles from Luke Heyer and Tristan Pompey. The Cajuns didn’t help themselves in the inning with a hit batter and a bases-loaded walk from reliever Caleb Armstrong.
It was still 7-4 in the eighth before Kentucky got three insurance runs on an RBI single from Heyer and a two-run double from Collett, the last of seven extra-base hits the Wildcats collected.
“Our young guys have to learn to pitch against the three-run inning,” said Robichaux, who got a combined five-hit shutout from sophomore returnee Jack Burk and senior reliever Logan Stoelke in Saturday’s 3-0 win over 12th-ranked Vanderbilt. “We have to get them to slow down and not let the game get too fast for them.”
UL-Lafayette went into the tournament without one weekend starter in returnee left-hander Hogan Harris, who has been out for two weeks with a pulled oblique. Nick Lee threw six strong innings in starting Friday’s 3-1 loss to the Bulldogs, who scored twice in the ninth to break a 1-1 tie.
In Sunday’s game, the Cajuns scored runs in the top half of three innings, only to see Kentucky come back in the bottom of that same inning to match or better the UL-Lafayette output.
“We have to learn to break games open when we have the chance,” Robichaux said. “We can’t just get one here and one there. We had the bases loaded (in the seventh) and got only one. We have to get guys to step up and hit a ball in the gap like those guys (Kentucky) did. We’re not going to hold good hitting teams down, so we have to get more than one when we have that opportunity.”
The Cajuns took a 1-0 lead off Kentucky starter Justin Lewis (3-0) in the second inning when Hayden Cantrelle’s fly ball scored Hunter Kasuls, but the Wildcats came back on Shinn’s two-run triple in the right-center gap in the bottom of that inning. Three hits, an error and a passed ball in the sixth, including Monroe Moll’s RBI single, gave UL-Lafayette the 3-2 edge before Kentucky’s four-run sixth.
Until that point, Perrin (0-3) had scattered six hits and stranded five entering the sixth inning. The freshman left-hander from Boutte-Hahnville walked one and fanned three.
Hayden Cantrelle’s leadoff double and Daniel Lahare’s ground ball in the seventh cut the difference to 6-4 before Kentucky again answered with Zeke Lewis’ RBI single.
UL-Lafayette has played six games against ranked teams in the season’s first three weeks, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier this week when the Cajuns host No. 16 LSU on Wednesday (6 p.m.) and welcome No. 21 South Alabama in a three-game home series that begins Friday.