LAFAYETTE — For a team that’s had a few bounces go against it this season, Louisiana-Lafayette will take the ones that go its way.
The Cajuns (13-9, 4-3 Sun Belt) snapped a three-game losing skid with a 4-2 win against Georgia State (12-10, 2-3) despite the fact that they scored twice as many runs (four) as they had base hits (two).
Of course, the Cajuns did their part in the other two phases when the hitting wasn’t there Thursday. They played their first error-free outing since a March 16 win against Northwestern, and a resurgent Wyatt Marks spearheaded a solid team pitching effort.
“Pitch and play defense and get timely hitting,” said coach Tony Robichaux, hitting on his well-worn mantra. “That’s what we did.”
But it wasn’t always so much timely hitting as it was, well, a little luck.
In the bottom of the first inning and with Brenn Conrad at first base, Joe Robbins launched a Wayne Wages offering to deep right-center field. The ball appeared to bounce off the turf and over the fence, and Panthers right-fielder Will Johnson raised his hands to signal that the ball bounced out of play.
But the umpire ruled that the ball had cleared the fence entirely, giving Robbins his sixth home run of the season. Robbins, who had stopped at second, rounded the bases as a few Georgia State players started waving their arms in protest.
“I didn’t see it off the bat,” Robbins said. “I ran to second base and nobody threw their hands up, so they said come around third.”
The umpires had a lengthy meeting on the infield, then determined the home run call would not be reversed, giving the Cajuns a 2-0 lead they likely didn’t truly earn.
That would be about all the Cajuns could muster against the left-handed Wages, who shut down the Cajuns in seven strong innings, striking out six and allowing just four base runners.
It was up to Marks to match him. The sophomore had been lit up in his last two starts, giving up 12 hits and nine earned runs while lasting a combined five innings in a pair of Cajuns losses.
But on Thursday Marks looked much like the starter who compiled a 2.50 ERA through the firs three starts of the season.
He did not allow a runner past second base in the first five innings, and the only rough spot he found was in the sixth, when he gave up a pair of runs to tie the game.
“You’ve got to flush the good and the bad, you know?” Marks said. “You can’t let something in the past affect the way you’re going to pitch the next outing. You’ve got to flush it and get back to work.”
The game was still tied in the eighth inning, and the Cajuns bats were still struggling to get much of anything going, when Robichaux decided to call on closer Dylan Moore (2-1) in a non-save situation.
Moore faced the meat of the Panthers’ lineup in the eighth, and he retired them in order for the first perfect inning thrown by a Cajuns pitcher Thursday.
“We went ahead and put (Moore) in at the time we put him in because we thought the game was going to be won or lost right there,” Robichaux said. “We took a chance at it and (Moore) went out there and got their best (hitters) out for us, and I think that was the turning point of the game.”
Then, fittingly, the Cajuns put the winning rally together without taking the bats off their shoulders.
Against Georgia State reliever Bryce Conley (4-2), three of the first four Cajuns to come to the plate were either hit by a pitch or walked to load the bases for Ishmael Edwards. Edwards saw four pitches, all of them balls, to plate the go-ahead run.
Conley was lifted after walking Edwards. He threw 24 pitches in the game, and only eight went for strikes.
The bases were still loaded for Nick Thurman, who hit a long sacrifice fly to deep center field off Garrett Ford, giving the Cajuns two runs in the inning without the benefit of a hit or an error.
Moore retired the side in the ninth to earn the win, getting help from shortstop Brad Antchak, who turned a pretty 6-3 double play to record the final two outs of the game.
The Cajuns will send usual Game 1 starter Gunner Leger (2-1, 1.52) to the mound Friday as they attempt to secure the series win. Leger was originally scheduled to pitch Thursday, but he told Robichaux that he’d feel more comfortable with another day of rest after having to pitch a day later than usual last week.