LAFAYETTE — In the fifth inning of a tie game with the bases loaded against Western Kentucky, UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux said there is no one else he would rather have at the plate than second baseman Jace Conrad.
“All his life, he is what you call a gamer,” Robichaux said. “He rises to the occasion. Not everybody can do that. He has what I call ‘it.’ ”
For Conrad on Sunday, “it” was a grand slam to give his team the lead, and UL-Lafayette’s 7-4 win provided its eighth consecutive weekend series win.
“Jace hates to lose, and he is very hard on himself,” Robichaux said. “That is what leaders do: They step up big in big situations. He stepped on the gas and broke the game open.”
Conrad, a junior, admitted he wasn’t quite sure the ball was heading over the fence.
“I was just looking for a fastball, and I didn’t know it was gone right away,” Conrad said. “I had to talk to it a little bit to get it over the fence.”
Conrad is hitting .349 with six home runs and 34 RBIs. His grand slam extended his hitting streak to 13 games.
“This is my third year here, and I am starting to learn how to hit college pitching,” he said. “I just come out here and play the game hard. Everyone gets aggravated when they come out and don’t succeed, but I just try to hustle in everything I do and set an example for the team.”
After UL-Lafayette starter Cody Boutte pitched 4.2 innings, the Cajuns (26-3, 8-1 Sun Belt) turned to freshman lefty Connor Toups. The St. Thomas More product came in and pitched 4.1 innings, including a 1-2-3 ninth after giving up a run in the eighth.
“I just wanted to come in and shut the faucet,” he said. “I felt like I had a chance to pitch this weekend because we burned so many arms. I didn’t know if I was going to go out in the ninth, but I really wanted to close it out and finish what I started.”
Robichaux said he made the decision to use Toups in the ninth after looking at the lineup for the Hilltoppers (14-14, 4-5) and seeing four left-handed hitters after two righties to open the inning.
“Reagan (Bazar) had 26 pitches (Saturday) night, and we felt (WKU) was struggling against lefties,” Robichaux said. “We thought about bringing a righty in to knock out the first two righties, but we rolled the dice to see if Connor could get the first two righties. (Toups) hasn’t been throwing a lot, but his innings have been quality innings. We wanted to stick with left-handers.”
The win was Robichaux’s 700th at UL-Lafayette. As is typical of Robichaux, there was no fanfare.
“He won’t admit it’s a big deal because, honestly, he doesn’t think it’s a big deal,” Conrad said. “He really doesn’t care about his own personal success. He cares about us and getting us on the right foot after we leave college.”
Robichaux’s summation of the game was all about looking ahead, not behind.
“We pitched better today, and we played better defense and we got timely hitting,” he said. “You’ll win a lot of games when you do those three things, but we want to trade that one in for the big one at the end of the year.”