It was only fitting that, on senior day, all of UL baseball’s seven seniors played a major role in making sure the Ragin’ Cajuns’ season wouldn’t end prematurely.
The five seniors in the batting order combined for 10 hits and seven runs, and Grant Cox and Gunner Leger combined for more than five innings as part of a pitching staff that held Georgia State to only five hits Sunday afternoon.
They all combined to push the Cajuns to an 11-5 victory, finishing a sweep of their weekend Sun Belt Conference series against the Panthers and all but assuring UL a spot in the Sun Belt tournament that begins in 10 days.
“It’s so hard for the coaches to line up everything to be perfect for the seniors,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said. “But today is one of the best senior days I’ve ever had. All of them are in the lineup, all of them playing and all of them produced, and Gunner gets to end his career the way a winner should. I don’t think we could have drawn it up any better today.”
Cox got his second start of the season and allowed only three hits and fanned five in four innings, and Leger, the 2017 Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year who has fought injuries the past two seasons, got the final four outs to lead the Cajuns (25-28, 13-14) to their fifth win in six games.
In between, Hunter Kasuls, Handsome Monica, Daniel Lahare and Kole McKinnon each had multiple-hit games, and Orynn Veillon extended his hitting streak to 17 games with an eighth-inning double that was part of a five-run explosion to break open a close game.
The win and the weekend sweep, coupled with other Sun Belt results, vaulted the Cajuns from 11th place to eighth place in the conference standings with a three-game series at UL-Monroe remaining next weekend. Ten of the 12 league teams advance to the league tournament May 21-26 in Conway, South Carolina; the only way UL could miss the field is to get swept at ULM Thursday-Saturday and have Arkansas State sweep three games from Little Rock to sneak into the 10th spot.
“This weekend and next weekend, we knew it was really important for us to get into the tournament,” said Monica, who had a second straight three-hit day in his final home appearances. “As a team, we keep doing what we’ve been doing and staying on the process and doing what we know needs to get done, and we’ve been executing the last two weeks and it feels good.”
Monica had the game’s biggest blow, figuratively and literally, when he launched a three-run fourth-inning homer over the Russo Park scoreboard. His team-leading 12th homer of the year made up an early 3-0 deficit, and follow-up hits from LaHare and McKinnon provided a 4-3 lead.
Georgia State (14-38, 5-22) refused to fold, getting solo runs in the sixth and seventh innings without benefit of a hit, but Kasuls’ RBI single and Todd Lott’s three-run homer in the five-run eighth gave the Cajuns some breathing room.
Cox gave up two first-inning runs on Griffin Cheney’s double and Brandon Bell’s RBI ground ball, and Elian Merejo gave the Panthers a 3-0 lead with a leadoff homer in the fourth inning. In the bottom of that inning, though, Lott singled and Veillon drew a walk before Monica’s mammoth shot.
It was reminiscent of Kasuls’ grand slam in Saturday night’s eight-run sixth inning that blew open what became a 16-6 win.
“I hit it way harder than Kasuls,” Monica joked. "He’d been telling me all week he was going to hit a home run this weekend and I was like, whatever. Then he did it yesterday and I was kinda mad. So today I hit it a little bit further. It helps that it was during the day because the ball doesn’t really fly at night here.”
The Panthers tied it in the sixth after reliever Caleb Armstrong (1-1) recorded five straight outs before walking two batters, hitting one and plating a run with a wild pitch. Michael Leaumont came on to get the final out of the inning and gave up one unearned run in the seventh on Bell’s sacrifice fly, a run set up by Leaumont’s throwing error.
Brennan Breaux and O’Neal Lochridge had RBI singles in the bottom of the sixth to provide a 6-4 lead, and Leger came on with two outs in the eighth with the tying run in scoring position. He gave up an infield single but induced an inning-ending ground-ball out, and then watched his teammate blow it open moments later.
“I gave up a few hits, tried to make it last a little longer than it probably should have,” Leger said, “but it was awesome. This group of seniors, showing our resiliency in the last stretch. We’re playing well right now, we’re getting hot at the right time. Our hitters are basically carrying us now and the pitching’s coming around. We’re not done … I think we’ll make a story out of this.”