SAN MARCOS, Texas — The Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team was looking for the big hit in its Sun Belt Conference tournament opener against Arkansas State, and Kyle Clement was looking for a curveball.
He got one, and he crushed it for a three-run home run over the fence in right field to break a tie game in the eighth inning against Arkansas State and give the Cajuns (38-19) a 7-4 win.
Eric Carter (5-2) struck out nine in 3.2 relief innings to get the win for the Cajuns, who will play tournament host Texas State at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“We were fortunate tonight that two seniors played like seniors should,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said.
Before Clement came to the plate, the Cajuns had stranded eight runners in their previous four innings, including six in scoring position.
Alex Pinero led off the bottom eighth inning with a walk, then Brad Antchak reached first base safely when Arkansas State failed to come up with his popped up sacrifice bunt attempt.
That brought Clement to the plate with nobody out. Based on the way the game had gone earlier, he was looking for a first-pitch breaking ball from right-hander Tyler Zuber. He wasted no time depositing the first pitch he saw over the outstretched glove of right fielder Ty White for a three-run homer.
“I figured he was going to try to come at me with a strike,” Clement said. “I was sitting on a pitch and I was lucky and I got it and capitalized on it.”
Staked to the lead, Carter struck out the side in the ninth inning to preserve the win. The nine strikeouts were a career high for Carter in a relief appearance, and he has now struck out 54 in 40 innings.
Coach Tony Robichaux remembered the success Carter had earlier in the season against the Red Wolves when he struck out five in 3.1 scoreless innings.
“When we played them early in the year, I just really tried to establish a fastball,” Carter said. “… I really tried to pitch into good counts, locate early and pitch myself into counts where I could be successful.”
He wasn’t the only one to have the strikeout pitch working, though. The Cajuns struck out a season-high 20 on Wednesday night, four more than the previous season high of 16, which they accomplished last weekend against Louisiana-Monroe.
Sophomore pitcher Gunner Leger played a big part in that, striking out a career high 10. The only problem was he lasted five innings, needing 100 pitches to do so.
The Red Wolves did a good job of being patient and working the count against the normally efficient Leger.
“He got a lot of people into 2-2 and 1-2 (counts),” Robichaux said. “They pushed him to 2-2 and 3-2 a lot.”
Arkansas State struck first against Leger, when leadoff man Ty White singled to open the game, took second on a balk, third on a ground ball to the right side and scored on a wild pitch.
The Cajuns didn’t wait long to tie the game thanks to some shoddy Arkansas State defense.
The Red Wolves had the worst team fielding percentage (.966) of any team in the tournament field, and showed it in the first inning. Hunter Kasuls singled to center field, and the ball rolled right between Garrett Rucker’s legs.
Kasuls motored all the way to third base without a throw, and he scored three pitches later when Joe Robbins grounded out to the left side of the infield.
The Cajuns tacked on three more runs in the third inning despite getting just one ball out of the infield. A leadoff walk to Alex Pinero was followed by back-to-back bunt singles to load the bases with nobody out for Clement.
Clement walked to plate as the go-ahead run, Stefan Trosclair followed with a sacrifice fly to deep center field to score another, and Brenn Conrad brought the final run of the inning home on an RBI groundout to second base.
But the Red Wolves fought back. They scored two runs against Leger in the fourth inning with the help of a Joe Robbins error, then notched the tying run on a no-doubter home run by Daltan Lovell off Cajuns right-hander Jevin Huval.
The next batter hit a triple to the deepest part of the park, and that’s when Robichaux opted to put Carter in to stem the tide.
Carter struck out the next two batters.
The Cajuns will send right-hander Nick Lee (6-1, 3.24 ERA), recently named the SBC Freshman of the Year, to the mound against Texas State. The Bobcats will counter with left-hander Cory Geisler (4-2, 2.73).