LAFAYETTE — With his Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team struggling at the plate early in Saturday’s regular-season finale against Louisiana-Monroe, coach Tony Robichaux went ahead and let assistant Anthony Babineaux spread the news.
Babineaux went up and down the ranks and let his Ragin’ Cajuns know: Troy had shut out South Alabama 8-0, meaning the window was open — if you’re ready to step through it.
“We went and told them, and they went to work,” Robichaux said.
The Cajuns broke the game open with a five-run fifth inning to back another strong pitching performance by sophomore right-hander Evan Guillory in a 6-2 win. They clinched a share of the Sun Belt Conference regular-season title, ending the Cajuns’ one-year hiatus from the top of the final conference standings.
South Alabama raced to a 15-0 start in conference play this season but crumbled to a 6-9 finish. The Cajuns (37-19, 21-9) were 10-5 through the first half of conference play but finished 11-4, including a 5-1 jaunt over the past two weeks. They were four games out of first place last Friday.
“The big thing is how we did it, by them staying together and not falling apart when we had chances to fall apart,” Robichaux said. “We went through everything we had to go through, the losing and tough times … but the one common factor was the players deciding to stay together.”
The Cajuns are the No. 1 seed for this week’s conference tournament in San Marcos, Texas. The Cajuns are set to face No. 8 seed Arkansas State at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The Cajuns on Saturday were trailing 2-1 when they came to the plate in the fifth, courtesy of a moonshot two-run homer by Danny Springer in the top half — one of just five hits by the Warhawks (20-35, 10-20) against Guillory (5-5).
Guillory started with three perfect innings, and he had allowed only one base runner before he fell into some trouble in the fifth.
“He made one mistake and it left the yard, but that was it,” Robichaux said.
The Cajuns didn’t take long to have his back. Nick Thurman started a five-run rally in the bottom half by banging a double off the fence in right, just missing his second home run of the year. Thurman was chased home by the next batter, Alex Pinero, who drilled a single into right, and the avalanche was in motion.
By the time Stefan Trosclair’s two-run homer bounced off the tops of the trees beyond the wall in left, the Cajuns had picked up three extra-base hits and five runs, taking a commanding lead that they wouldn’t give up.
Trosclair raised his batting average nearly 20 points in the final five games of the regular season, all wins, and he did it almost exclusively with big hits. He went 9-for-19 in those games, and seven of those hits went for extra bases. He drove in nine runs over that stretch.
A meeting with hitting coach Jeremy Talbot prior to Friday’s games produced some simple and fruitful advice for Trosclair.
“We just talked about staying inside the ball; it’s really the big key to me,” Trosclair said. “Sticking to my approach, not trying to do too much. It worked out for me today.”
After the Cajuns’ five-run outburst, ULM could never manage more than one runner per inning against Guillory and right-hander Chris Charpentier.
Guillory finished with six strikeouts in seven innings, and he has now won four of his past six decisions. Charpentier was pitching at home for the first time since March 19, and he looked sharp while preserving the Cajuns’ conference championship.
“The unsung hero comes off the bench and gets the last six outs for us,” Robichaux said.