LAFAYETTE — After his baseball team’s most bitter loss of the season Sunday, Louisiana-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux needed someone to set a tempo Tuesday night.
Matt Hicks did that, and more.
The Ragin’ Cajuns senior, making only his third start of the season, allowed only two hits and three base runners in five innings of work, and his teammates did the rest in an 8-0 shutout win over McNeese State.
Hicks (5-0), the Cajuns’ all-time leader in career saves, only threw 56 pitches in five innings before turning the ball over to senior Ben Carter, who no-hit the Cowboys over the final four innings and gave up only one base runner on an error.
“Matt is so good at setting a good tempo for us,” Robichaux said. “When you have a seven-hour bus ride back on Sunday, the last thing you want to send out there is a human rain delay to pitch. Matt’s not going to do that.
“Those last four innings, that’s the Ben Carter we like. He can throw 90, 91 with some lift and come back with that good down slider. It’s really tough for batters to pick up on.”
The second-ranked Cajuns (37-5) kept the nation’s best record and added to their nation-leading win total after a disappointing 5-4 loss on Sunday in a series finale at Texas-Arlington. UL-Lafayette led 4-1 going into the ninth inning of that game and blew a lead after the third inning for the first time this season.
“That’s baseball ... you’re going to lose some like that,” said Hicks, who fanned five and didn’t walk a batter. “You don’t want that to happen, but a loss teaches you something. It’s all about how you come back after a loss.”
The Cajuns haven’t lost back-to-back games this season, and they made the bounce-back look easy Tuesday in their second win over the Cowboys (20-19) this year. UL-Lafayette had taken a 14-8 win in Lake Charles two weeks ago, and McNeese has won only once since then. The Cowboys are now riding a six-game loss streak.
UL-Lafayette got a run without a hit in the first inning and put up a three-run third frame against Cowboy starter Michael Desabrais (0-2), before adding four more runs off the McNeese bullpen in the sixth through eighth innings. The Cajuns scored half of their runs in the game on sacrifice flies (two) and infield ground balls with runners at third (two).
“When you’re getting good pitching like that, you can chip away,” Robichaux said. “Every one run you get when you’re pitching seems like so much more.”
Of the Cowboys’ four base runners, three of them reached third base. Jackson Gooch reached on a two-out three-base outfield error in the first inning and doubled and moved up on a ground ball in the fourth, but Hicks worked out of trouble each time. McNeese’s only other hit was Matt Gallier’s two-out single in the fifth, and the only batter to reach base against Carter was pinch hitter Taylor Drake on a two-base error in the ninth.
Blake Trahan walked and eventually scored on Seth Harrison’s sacrifice fly in the first, and UL-Lafayette made it 4-0 in the third when Harrison walked, Tyler Girouard singled and Caleb Adams followed with an RBI double in the left-center gap. Girouard scored on Desabrais’ wild pitch, and Dylan Butler welcomed reliever Collin Kober with an infield RBI single that brought home Adams.
Pinch hitter Greg Davis’ leadoff double and Trahan’s sacrifice fly made it 5-0 in the sixth, and Jace Conrad had RBI ground balls in both the seventh and eighth along with an RBI single from pinch hitter Nick Thurman that scored Trahan.
“We needed this to bounce back,” Hicks said. “The whole mentality of this team is to grind it out, and there hasn’t been a single time this year we haven’t come back and done that.”