LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette’s bullpen had struggled in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ recent streak of five losses in six Sun Belt Conference road games.
A return home and an 11-hit attack, including five in a key three-run seventh inning, helped shake those struggles Tuesday night.
But it was a strong relief pitching effort by Matt Hicks and Seth Harrison that paved the way for ULL’s 8-5 victory over McNeese State at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.
Hicks came on in the sixth inning with the Cowboys leading 5-3 and looking for more, and struck out McNeese pinch hitter Taylor Drake to end the inning. From then on, the Cowboys managed only two hits and never had a runner past second base.
The Cajuns made it a one-run game on Caleb Adams’ solo homer in the sixth and then strung five hits in the seventh to score the eventual winning runs.
“We’ll go as far as we pitch,” said Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux, whose team took its ninth straight home win over the Cowboys. “Tonight, we did a good job there. But we also needed some big licks down the stretch, and we got them.”
Hicks (3-0) allowed one hit and walked one in 21?3 innings, while Harrison gave up a lone single and struck out three in the ninth for his second save in as many games.
Singles by Jace Conrad, Ryan Leonards and Harrison scored the tying run off Cowboys reliever Tyler Parke (2-1) in the seventh, and Tyler Girouard’s single put ULL (20-8) ahead for good. Michael Strentz followed with an RBI double, scoring Girouard for a 7-5 lead.
The Cajuns added an insurance run in the eighth when Conrad beat out an infield single, stole second and scored on Dex Kjerstad’s RBI single.
“That’s the whole key to us: getting runs like that,” Robichaux said. “We work all fall on running everything out and taking advantage of that when we can.”
The running game had given ULL a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning when Ryan Leonards’ squeeze bunt scored Chase Compton, and when the ball rolled past MSU third baseman Tyler Klouser, Blake Trahan never slowed in rounding third and scoring the squeeze play’s second run.
McNeese (17-10) had taken a 2-1 lead off starter Chase Traffica in the second inning on Hans Ask’s second-inning sacrifice fly that scored Connor Lloyd, and Andrew Guillotte’s RBI single in the fifth that scored Matt Williams. Williams also had an RBI single in the sixth, just before Ask’s two-run triple gave MSU the 5-3 lead.
Kjerstad’s leadoff homer in the bottom of the first had staked the Cajuns to a 1-0 lead, but Cowboys starter Jason Gibson didn’t allow another hit until the fifth inning.