LAFAYETTE — The double play can be a pitcher’s best friend, but Friday night it, was also a record-breaker.
Louisiana-Lafayette reliever Matt Hicks induced a game-ending double-play ground ball from Florida Atlantic’s Robert Buckley with the tying and go-ahead runs on base, helping the Ragin’ Cajuns survive for a 5-3 win over the Sun Belt Conference-leading Owls in the opener of a pivotal three-game baseball series at M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field.
The Cajuns (26-12, 9-7 Sun Belt) had taken a two-run lead in the bottom of the eighth inning on Blake Trahan’s second RBI single of the game, but FAU (25-13, 10-6) loaded the bases on singles by Brendon Sanger, Ricky Santiago and Mitch Morales sandwiched around a botched sacrifice attempt.
With one out, Buckley grounded to shortstop, and the Cajuns turned their third double play of the game — including their second in as many innings — to give Hicks his ninth save of the year and 13th of his career, setting a ULL mark for career saves. The senior entered the game tied with Kraig Schambough and Justin Robichaux for the career saves mark.
“He has great sink on his fastball,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said of Hicks. “I told him we had to get it on the carpet, and he kept it down and got the ground ball when we needed it.”
The win pulled the Cajuns within one of FAU and also knocked the Owls out of first place after FAU entered the night tied with South Alabama and Western Kentucky at 10-5 in Sun Belt play. ULL and FAU play the middle game of the series at 6 p.m. Saturday and wrap up the series at noon Sunday.
The Cajuns scored single runs in five different innings, plating runs in four of the first five innings off Owl starter Austin Gomber (4-3). Two of those came on solo homers — one by leadoff hitter Dex Kjerstad in the first inning and the other by Seth Harrison in the fifth that made it 4-1.
“We knew we weren’t going to score a lot of runs off a good arm like that,” Robichaux said. “Even though we didn’t get the big inning, our runs mattered, and they don’t matter if we hadn’t pitched and played defense.”
The early runs were enough for ULL starter Austin Robichaux (6-2), who checked the Owls on six hits in seven and one-third innings before Hicks came on to get an inning-ending double play in the eighth.
Robichaux gave up a two-out solo homer to Tyler Rocklein in the fourth inning, but was only in trouble in one inning. That came in the sixth, when Buckley reached on a leadoff error and Nathan Pittman and Levi Meyer followed with singles to score one run. Two batters later, Brendon Sanger drew a bases-loaded walk to score Pittman to make it 4-3, but Robichaux got two popups to get out of the inning.
Robichaux faced only two batters over the minimum going into that sixth inning.
It was still 4-3 in the eighth when Caleb Adams doubled off FAU reliever Kevin Alexander with two outs, and Trahan followed with his RBI single. His other run-scorer came in the fourth when Adams led off with a triple down the left-field line and Trahan singled up the middle.
“For a freshman to be in that situation and do that,” Robichaux said, “that’s special. But we saw him do that all fall. He does a good job of staying inside the ball, and the game never gets too fast for him.”