LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux has been finding pinch-hit at-bats for Kennon Fontenot and Brenn Conrad in situations exactly like the one his team found itself in Sunday afternoon against South Alabama at Moore Field.
With his team trailing by a run and just a few outs away from getting swept for the first time since 2013, Fontenot led off the eighth inning with a pinch-hit single up the middle. Four batters later, with runners on second and third, Conrad yanked a two-out, two-run single through the right side for what proved to be the decisive hit in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 3-2 win.
“Coach Robichaux has been trying to get me pinch hits every game he can, whether somebody’s struggling or not,” Conrad said. “I tried to get focused as many times as I could for all my pinch hits, and today was a good one. I went up there confident as I’ve ever been, and I got the job done.”
Sunday’s game was remarkably similar to the first two games between the Cajuns (31-19, 15-11 Sun Belt) and Jaguars (34-18, 19-8). Both teams were error-free, and both starters carved up the other team’s lineup. The difference between a win and a loss came in the form of clutch hitting and a lock-down bullpen effort by the Cajuns that was missing the first two games.
Senior Greg Milhorn (2-1) entered the game in the seventh inning after starter Wyatt Marks threw six strong innings against the league’s top offense. The Cajuns bullpen allowed five runs in the late innings of the first two games, but Milhorn reversed the trend.
Pitching for the first time in nearly a month after leaving his April 11 start with a groin injury, Milhorn needed just 13 pitches to fire two scoreless innings of relief. Robichaux had a gut feeling he might deliver on Senior Day, especially after Milhorn looked good throwing against live hitters in practice this week.
“All the indicators were there,” Robichaux said. “We knew he’d give us everything he had on Senior Day. His mom and dad were here, and this was his last time to pitch on this field. I thought he did a great job.”
Marks returned to form after a tough outing against Appalachian State the week before, and he might have thrown a shutout if it weren’t for South Alabama catcher Davis Knapp, a senior who has played sparingly this season and was making his first appearance of the weekend.
Entering Sunday’s game, Knapp was hitting just .162 in 13 plate appearances, but he was ready to do some damage against Marks. He took the first pitch he saw for a ride to lead off the third inning, wrapping it around the left-field foul pole for a solo home run.
In the fifth, he yanked another pitch down the line on an 0-2 count and strolled into second with a leadoff double. He came around to score on a squeeze bunt to put the Jaguars ahead 2-0.
The Cajuns got one back in the bottom of the inning when Dylan Butler scored Greg Davis with a single. But for the third time in the series, they left the bases loaded when Stefan Trosclair struck out to end the inning.
South Alabama left-hander Jared Gates (4-3) stifled the Cajuns for most of his outing, throwing seven strong innings, but he was charged with the loss after allowing the Fontenot single and a walk in the eighth; those two scored on Conrad’s single.
Dylan Moore worked around a one-out single in the ninth to record his eighth save of the season, but it didn’t come without drama. Knapp hit a towering shot to the right-field corner that likely would have brought home the tying run — but the ball landed just foul, and Moore got him to pop up to first base for the second out.
Although the Cajuns no longer have a chance at winning the league outright, Robichaux hopes his team responds to the losing skid as the postseason draws near.
“We’ve got to try to turn ourselves into something and rally around what has happened,” he said. “As I told them today, you’ve got one of two choices: You can say that you’ve pushed hard enough and that you’ve tried, yeoman’s effort and the rest of the season can go by the wayside; or we can understand why we went through this, maybe it made us tougher, maybe we grew from it, and hang on. We’ve still got something to play (for).”