TROY, Ala. — Wednesday was Kyle Clement’s birthday, but there was no joy in it.
The junior outfielder committed a key error in the ninth inning of Louisiana-Lafayette’s 8-7 loss to Texas State in the Cajuns’ Sun Belt Conference tournament opener.
But with age comes wisdom — sometimes from those who’ve been around longer.
“Don’t let this game define you,” coach Tony Robichaux recalled telling Clement afterward. “How you respond as a man — that ought to be how you define yourself.’”
It didn’t go much better for Stefan Trosclair, who wasn’t celebrating a birthday Wednesday but did join Clement in the ninth-inning error club, his setting up a game-winning hit.
Clement and Trosclair have been two of the Cajuns’ best players during the stretch run of the season, and both made uncharacteristic errors at an inopportune time.
But their season wasn’t over yet — even if it looked that way after the first inning of Thursday’s game against tournament host Troy, whom they spotted a 5-1 lead.
The Cajuns had every reason to lay down and watch their season wither away.
But as Robichaux said, it’s the way they responded that defined them.
“We just kept coming,” Trosclair said. “We believed.”
How’s this for a response? Clement and Trosclair torched Troy pitching to the tune of a 5-for-8 day at the plate with six RBIs and five runs scored.
There was no conceding defeat, even after the Cajuns followed up their disastrous ninth inning against Texas State in the worst way possible against Troy.
After all, the Cajuns did lead the conference in home runs and runs precisely because of players like Clement and Trosclair. A four-run deficit was inconvenient, not insurmountable.
“We knew we had a lot of game left,” Trosclair said. “It was the first inning. It wasn’t a panic; we didn’t press the panic button or anything, we just sat back, relaxed and kept playing.”
Trosclair certainly looked relaxed when he erased Troy’s lead with his 15th home run of the year, a three-run bomb to left field that gave the Cajuns a 7-5 lead.
The two formed a swaggering tag team in the fourth, ripping back-to-back doubles to chase Troy starter Grant Bennett from the game. Clement then added another RBI single in the sixth for good measure.
Their season looked like it was as good as over in the first inning. By the sixth, it would’ve been strange to see them not win the game.
The team was so loose that a few of Clement’s teammates started giving him exaggerated congratulatory cheers when he caught routine fly balls.
“We had let last night go,” Robichaux said. “That was important.”
The road is still daunting for Clement, Trosclair and the rest of their teammates. They’re one loss away from starting their summer vacation.
But if Thursday’s game provides any lessons, it’s that the team is not going to let failure stand in its way.
“If you’re going to make it, you’ve got to be grinders,” Robichaux said. “You’ve got to grind your way through this; it’s the only way you can do it. That’s what a champion does, he grinds his way through.”
Especially when there’s every reason not to.